Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Pantodon buchholzi

Freshwater butterflyfish

Freshwater butterflyfish, Pantodon buchholziFreshwater butterflyfish, Pantodon buchholzi
Photos by Andy Rapson

General Notes:

Freshwater butterflyfish are very different to most other fish and in the right situation they make a stunning centrepiece fish in any tank. They live their lives almost entirely on the surface of the water and are jumpers without rival. These fish must be kept very well covered. Floating plants or small overhangs will give them somewhere to hide and increase their feeling of security. Tank mates must be carefully chosen because very small fish will be viewed as prey and fin nippers would attack the butterflyfish's long fins. Freshwater butterflyfish are normally very peaceful with suitable tank mates.

Scientist studying Pantodon buchholzi found that the populations in the Niger and Congo rivers were different genetically although they appear the same. There is up to a 15% divergence in the mitochondrial genome between the populations and this is greater than between humans and chimps. Because of this the two populations may no longer be able to breed with each other.


Wild freshwater butterflyfish feed mainly on insects and small fish. In captivity freshwater butterflyfish will only feed at the surface, once the food falls from the surface it will be ignored. They will take insects, small crickets and flightless fruit flies are ideal for this but some specimens will also take floating pellets and even flake food although not to difficult feeding these fish is less straight forward than with most species.


The sexes can be told apart by their anal fins, the males rear edge of the anal fin is curved and the rear edge of the females anal fin is straight. This method cannot be fully relied upon.


Breeding freshwater butterflyfish is difficult, they don't spawn readily in captivity and when they do they will eat their own eggs. The eggs are laid over several days and are buoyant and stay on the surface they will hatch after a few days and the very tiny fry will only eat live food at the surface if it passes very close to them. So brine shrimps, micro worms and liquid fry food won't work. Using an infusoria culture drip fed in to the raising tank seems like the best option.

Wild status

The wild status of freshwater butterflyfish is that of least concern, the fish is widespread and common and not facing any immediate threats.

Information at a glance

pH: 6.5 - 7
dGH: 5 - 20
Temperature: 23 - 30°C (74 - 86°F)
Diet: Carnivore
Size: 12cm (4.75in)
Min tank size: 100 litres
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Aquarium type: Community
Swimming level: Surface

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Freshwater butterflyfish, Pantodon buchholzi

Origin: West and Central Africa: Nigeria, Lake Chad, Cameroon, Ogowe basin, Congo basin and upper Zambezi River. Eastern limit of its distribution seems to be the Ouémé River in Benin, but it is also observed in Jong River, Sierra Leone

Habitat: Freshwater butterflyfish are found in calm waters. It lives in swamps, creeks, backwaters and inhabits the calmer parts of rivers where it can be seen on the surface waters


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Osteoglossiformes
Family: Pantadontidae
Genus: Pantadon
Species: P. buchholzi Peters 1877

Common name:
Freshwater butterflyfish

Synonyms: Pantodon buchholzi schizonotus, Pantodon buchholzi macrolepis