Copperband Butterflyfish Species & Care Guide

copperband butterflyfish

The copperband butterflyfish is a delicate species that requires the perfect environment to stay healthy.

The copperband is one of the more popular species of butterflyfish, but it’s also one of the most difficult to take care of. Beginners will probably struggle with the needs and maintenance of copperbands, so only confident and experienced aquarists should attempt to keep them at home.

They are worth the effort though; this species will add plenty of color and activity to your tank. They may even clear your aquarium of pests as an added bonus.

This article will help you to meet the challenge of keeping copperband butterflyfish. We’ll cover everything you need, such as their preferred tank conditions, their diet, compatibility, and much more.

Copperband Butterflyfish Facts & Overview

Care Level:Difficult
Temperament: Aggressive towards other butterflyfish
Color Form:White with yellow bands
Lifespan: Up to 5 years
Size: Up to 5 inches in captivity
Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons, depending on species
Tank Set-Up:Saltwater with rocks or corals
Compatibility: Peaceful community

The copperband butterflyfish is a favorite species for saltwater aquariums.

They are beautiful and rewarding fish to care for, but they can be difficult to keep, particularly regarding their feeding requirements and need for pristine water conditions.

Therefore, they are not recommended for anyone attempting to start a marine setup for the first time, experience will prove very valuable.

In pet stores, you might see these fish labeled as Beaked Coral Fish, or as their scientific name Chelmon rostratus. They are part of the Chaetodontidae family, which holds all species of butterflyfish, along with bannerfish and coralfish.

Their natural habitat is a coral reef or rocky shoreline, though sometimes they are spotted in estuary environments. They need warmth and plenty of live rock to graze on.

They spend lots of their time feeding on invertebrates, using their long snouts to grab food from small crevices. Many aquarists choose them for this reason, in the hopes that they will feed on pests like tubeworms.

Copperband Butterflyfish have a large distribution; populations can be found in various locations around the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This includes Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

They are one of the most recognizable reef fish with their bright colors and patterns, they are commonly seen in media such as Finding Nemo.

When purchasing some copperband butterflyfish, inspect the stock carefully. Look out for any signs that the fish are unhealthy, such as a loss of color, physical wounds, or indications of disease.

If you find that something is wrong, head to a different store. You don’t want your fish to struggle with the transition to your tank, they are hard enough to care for as it is!

Since they are so popular most stores selling saltwater fish will stock this species. They can be quite expensive though, with prices ranging from $40 to $100 (or even more) depending on the size and age of the fish.

It may be worth enquiring about where a stock has come from, as those shipped halfway around the world could be very stressed and less able to tolerate further transport to your aquarium.

Once established in your aquarium, copperband butterflyfish can live for about 4-5 years.

Typical Behavior

Aggression can be a bit of a problem with these fish, but it can be avoided by choosing the right tank mates.

Their aggression is usually directed towards other butterflyfish, so don’t mix them with similar species. They generally get on well with peaceful fish.

They may nip at corals, but they should be fine in a reef if you watch them carefully.

They will spend their time around the lower and middle levels of the tank, searching for food around rocks/corals.

You will likely see them using their long noses to poke into small gaps. This is how they thrive in the wild, they can find food that others cannot reach.

When breeding, they pair up and share a territory.

Copperband butterflyfish can move faster than you would expect, and they are very agile. They will dart to safety when spooked.

These fish are fragile, which can leave them susceptible to disease.


copperband butterflyfish

You may wonder why so many aquarists are willing to deal with the difficulties associated with keeping Copperband Butterflyfish, but if you’ve ever seen them, you’ll understand why.

They have a simple design. There are white with yellow bands running vertically across their body, even running through their eyes.

Their body is almost triangular; their rear is tall due to large dorsal and anal fins, but the body gradually becomes rounder towards the front.

This is exaggerated by their long snout which extends outwards at the front of the head.

There is an interesting feature at the tail-end of their dorsal fin. They have a black spot that resembles an eye, perhaps to confuse predators. This is larger than their actual eye, which is camouflaged among the stripes.

At the base of their caudal fin is a short black stripe, which looks like it is holding the fin in place.

It is possible for these fish to grow up to 8 inches long in the wild, but expect them to be 4-5 inches when in captivity.

You also need to consider the height of this species. They can be 3-4 inches in height, especially at the rear, so they take up more space than you might think.

It is very difficult to distinguish between males and females. This is usually a problem when trying to start a breeding tank, but this species is very difficult to breed in captivity anyway.

Copperband Butterflyfish are often confused with the Margined Coralfish (Chelmon marginalis), but these have darker colors and fewer stripes.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

These saltwater fish naturally come from the Pacific and Indian Oceans where they inhabit reefs around Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

The corals and rocks of a reef create excellent shelter. Copperband Butterflyfish will stick to one area, returning regularly to their territory.

They can thrive with their long noses, using them to reach food in difficult places. As a carnivorous species, they are often on the lookout for invertebrates to eat.

When breeding, they form monogamous pairs, sticking together all the time.

They have been spotted in various areas of a reef, including reef slopes, the drop-off, and shallower areas closer to the shore. They don’t tend to live deeper than 80 ft.

Sometimes they are even seen in estuaries, but this is rare and shouldn’t be replicated in captivity.

They live in tropical climates where the water is warm and alkaline.

Copperband Butterflyfish are known for being extremely delicate. Their environment needs to be impeccable for them to stay strong and healthy.

To create the perfect environment, you should model their natural habitat. We will outline how to do this below.

Tank Conditions

Copperband Butterflyfish should be kept in a peaceful marine community aquarium, ideally with a large reef, but this isn’t an option for everyone.

At the bottom of the tank, create a layer of sand. Aragonite sand is a good option because it looks like normal sand, but it is made up of calcium carbonate, like coral skeletons.

You could also use crushed coral, but the grains will be larger.

This species needs plenty of live rock to graze on.

Create a labyrinth of cracks, crevices, and caves using corals and rocks. These will offer hiding places as well as areas to be claimed as a territory.

Copperband Butterflyfish will likely pick a cave and stick to it, returning there regularly and defending it from others. The only exception is if they are breeding; they’ll let their partner in.

Using lots of corals can be a risk. The species is generally considered reef safe, but they can cause damage, it often depends on the individual.

This is important to think about as corals can cost a lot of money. The decision is up to you.

The aquarium water will need to be heated to between 75°F and 78°F. The pH should be 8.1-8.4 and a specific gravity of 1.020-1.025 is essential.

While it is always important to maintain the correct water conditions for your fish, it is particularly crucial for Copperband Butterflyfish, who are prone to struggle as soon as conditions deviate slightly from the norm.

Standard aquarium lighting is fine, and the only other piece of equipment is a high-quality filter.

Water movement is very important on a reef for gas exchange, so you may also need a water pump if the flow from your filter outlet isn’t strong enough.

What Size Aquarium do they need?

A 5-inch long fish can take up a lot of space in an aquarium, especially when the species is tall too, so you need a big tank to accommodate them.

The minimum recommended size for your fish tank is 75 gallons. This will give them plenty of space to have their own territory away from other fish, while also having room to explore.

They will appreciate more space if you can supply it, always go with the biggest tank you can afford/fit. Large tanks are easier to maintain too, so your Copperband Butterflyfish will be less at risk.

How Many Can be kept per gallon?

You should only keep these fish singly. They do not get on well with other butterflyfish, including fellow members of their own species. This would bring out their territorial nature and result in aggression.

Tank Mates

You can keep Copperband Butterflyfish in a community aquarium if you have carefully considered the compatibility of any tank mates.

Lots of popular reef species can be potential options. The main qualifying factor for a good tank mate is their temperament; they need to be peaceful.

You could try Cardinals, Chromis, Clownfish, Damsels, Dragonets, or Gobies. Make sure to research each species individually before buying some for your tank.

Never keep Copperband Butterflyfish with other species of butterflyfish. This will cause aggression, fighting, and possibly death.

Be careful not to overstock your tank. If your fish don’t have enough space, then aggressive outbursts may be more frequent and could affect even peaceful tank mates.

Invertebrates may be at risk on your reef, especially small ones. Copperband Butterflyfish enjoy a carnivorous diet full of invertebrates.

This usually doesn’t put your corals at risk, but sometimes they may get nipped. It can depend on the individual, but they are cautiously considered reef safe.

Lots of live rock is important for these fish to graze on.

Can You Keep Copperband Butterflyfish Together?

No, you cannot.

These fish are territorial, which leads to aggression. Most fish don’t experience this aggression though, since it is only directed towards their own kind and similar species.

Two Copperband Butterflyfish will fight when kept together, which will lead to injury or death for at least one of them, if not both. Keep them singly.

Usually, the exception to this is for a breeding tank, but these fish are very difficult to breed, so it isn’t worth the effort.


For many aquarists, feeding can be the hardest part of keeping Copperband Butterflyfish in captivity.

It can be difficult to get the required nutrients to your fish, particularly when trying to carefully control the conditions of your reef by limiting feeding.

The stress of moving to a new tank can ruin the appetite of Copperband Butterflyfish; some individuals will simply refuse to feed altogether.

This is more common than you might think, so to be safe you could ask staff to show you the fish feeding before you buy them from a store.

Using a quarantine tank before adding these fish to your main aquarium is a good way to increase the odds of successful feeding.

The lack of tank mates in the quarantine tank will help to reduce stress. An ultraviolet sterilizer could be added to remove pathogens too. Include lots of live rock for grazing.

Copperband Butterflyfish are carnivores. They naturally use their long snout to eat small invertebrates from narrow spaces.

There are lots of options for feeding in captivity. You could try brine shrimp, mysid shrimp, or clams. Freshwater options like bloodworms and insect larvae could be accepted too.

Keep a close eye on them while they are newly introduced. If they don’t feed, try switching up their diet. Check the water conditions too, as they are more likely to feed in clean water.

Getting them to feed on anything is a good sign. Live foods tend to be more readily accepted, then you can wean them onto frozen foods.

Feed your Copperband Butterflyfish small amounts of food 2-3 times a day. This will give them plenty of opportunities to access food while easing the work on their digestive systems too.


copperband butterflyfish

Copperband Butterflyfish are tricky to care for, they have set needs that need to be consistently provided for, any changes to their environments could prove fatal.

If you have never kept saltwater fish before, this species isn’t for you. Beginners will likely struggle to meet their care needs. Try some easier species first to get some experience.

To ensure that you can care for them properly, you must have researched them thoroughly before buying any. You should be well prepared and know what to expect.

This will help you to design the perfect tank to meet their needs. Putting Copperband Butterflyfish in an imperfect tank will doom them to die.

Your aquarium should be fully cycled and established, potentially for up to six months, before adding these fish. They would not survive any signs of the nitrogen cycle.

Once the fish are in the tank, you must maintain it. Regular cleaning is essential for keeping the water parameters consistent. This includes performing regular water changes and removing algae.

Use water testing kits each week (or even more regularly). It is important to catch any changes in water conditions as soon as possible, so you can fix problems before they can affect your fish.

Keeping the tank clean is the best way to prevent disease since pathogens thrive in poor water conditions.

While Copperband Butterflyfish are not particularly susceptible to any disease, they can contract many common saltwater illnesses. These could be more problematic for this species than others since they are much more delicate.

Some common diseases include Marine Ich, Lymphocystis, Marine Velvet, and Uronema marinum.

Check your fish regularly for signs of disease. Move them to a quarantine tank to prevent it from spreading to other fish in your community.

There are lots of medications available in pet stores for common diseases. Don’t use copper-based medications if you have any live rock (for grazing) in your quarantine tank, as copper will be toxic.


There are no successful reports of anyone managing to breed Copperband Butterflyfish in captivity. There is no point attempting it and putting fish at risk by keeping multiple individuals together.

It would be difficult enough trying to make sure that you had a male and a female since there is no way to tell the sexes apart by eye.

In the wild, they are pelagic spawners, releasing eggs into the water column. They drift in the water until they hatch into a post-larval phase with bony plates covering their body.

Though there haven’t been reports of mating in captivity, there has been some success rearing some larvae collected from the wild.

This isn’t an option for aquarists in their homes, but it is promising for commercial use, as there is hope that aquarium reared fish will be happier to accept aquarium foods.

Are Copperband Butterflyfish Suitable for Your Aquarium?

The delicate nature of Copperband Butterflyfish means that any tank they are added to should have been designed specifically with them in mind.

Therefore, it is unlikely that they will be able to be added to a tank you have already started.

Caring for these fish is difficult and requires a lot of research before purchasing. Previous experience with saltwater fish will come in very useful; beginners should pick an easier species first.

Design the tank carefully and fully establish it before adding your fish. If you maintain it properly, they should be fine.

Another problem you may run into is getting them to feed. This can be tricky and often depending on the individual fish. Be careful when choosing your fish and vary the diet if necessary.

Though these fish are a lot of work and they may make you worry from time to time, they are a beautiful species that add lots of activity to a reef.

They will poke around in cracks and crevices for food, potentially keeping your tank free of pests.

Have you had any problems with your Copperband Butterflyfish? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

About Robert 386 Articles
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third-generation fish keeper, and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America, and the Nature Conservancy.

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