Raccoon butterflyfish get their name from their markings, which resemble the black and white mask of a raccoon. As an interesting member of the butterflyfish family, they make great additions to community saltwater tanks. However, these fish are not reef-friendly and will eat coral and invertebrates.
Good candidates for a Fish Only with Live Rock (FOWLR) tank, raccoon butterflyfish are peaceful fish that do well with many fish species but tend to be territorial with other Raccoon Butterflyfish.
These fish are middle to bottom dwellers and are carnivores.
In this guide, we’ll detail the natural habitat of raccoon butterflyfish and offer suggestions on how to adapt them to life in a community aquarium.
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Raccoon Butterflyfish Facts & Overview
|Temperament:||Peaceful except with their own species|
|Color Form:||Yellow, black, white|
|Minimum Tank Size:||75 gallons|
|Tank Set-Up:||Saltwater (not reef safe)|
Raccoon Butterflyfish, scientific name Chaetodon lunula, originate in many areas of the Indo-Pacific, including parts of East Africa, Hawaii, Fiji, and Japan. They are also sometimes identified in the eastern Pacific, in Ecuador around the Galapagos Islands, and Costa Rica around the Cocos Island.
Raccoon Butterflyfish has many other names, including
- Bandit Butterflyfish
- Crescent-masked Butterflyfish
- Halfmoon Butterflyfish
- Lunula Butterflyfish
- Moon Butterflyfish
- Racoon Coralfish
- Red Striped Butterflyfish
- Spotted Butterflyfish
In the wild, Raccoon Butterflyfish are found in reef habitats, including seaweed reefs, fringe reefs, reef flats, back reefs, and foremost reef slopes. Sometimes found in tide pools, they are seen in water as shallow as half a foot (.5 m) and as deep as 230 feet (70 m).
However, it’s more common to see them in depths of 98 feet (30 m) or less. Even though their natural environment is reef-based, in captivity, they are not considered reef safe because of their tendency to eat coral.
In the wild, they are seen in small groups of up to 20 fish, but the size limitations of your home saltwater community lead me to the recommendation of one Raccoon Butterflyfish per tank. This is because they get aggressive with each other. In the open space of the ocean, their aggression is not an issue, but a
75-gallon tank is another story.
It should be noted that there is another fish, the scientific name Chaetodon fasciatus, which is similar in appearance and known as the Red Sea Raccoon Butterflyfish. But they are different species.
In the wild, they hang out under ledges and in caves, and divers love to experience them in their natural habitat; Raccoon Butterflyfish are often photographed fish. They usually stay hidden during the day, coming out at night to forage for food.
In the safety of your home aquarium, you’ll enjoy watching your Racoon Butterflyfish explore the tank, swimming around until they duck into a cave. Although they are nocturnal creatures, they can be trained to eat during the day, and as they are carnivores, watching them eat live and fish pieces are a real treat.
They are known for eating the invasive Aiptasia anemones, which could be seen as a plus, but they will also eat through soft coral and even make their way through hard coral polyps, so they are not recommended for home reefs aquascapes.
One behavioral plus for the Raccoon Butterflyfish is its ability to change its appearance to a dark blotchy hue when it is threatened or wants some nighttime camouflage.
Raccoon Butterflyfish are identifiable from their distinct masked face that resembles a raccoon, interesting since both are nocturnal creatures. Like raccoons, Raccoon Butterflyfish also have unusually large eyes.
Its colorful patterns really make the Raccoon Butterflyfish stand out in your community saltwater aquarium. These fish have a rich brown base color with black, yellow, and orange markings, along with the white markings around their eyes. One black band appears with the white one around the eyes (the mask), another from the white band all the way to the dorsal fin, and the final black band is in front of the tail fin at the rear of the fish.
Raccoon Butterflyfish have a body that looks like a compressed disc. They have a continuous dorsal fin and a truncated tail fin. Raccoon Butterflyfish have a small mouth with a protruding snout.
At 8 inches (20 cm), they are a decent-sized saltwater addition and need some space for swimming and foraging.
Adult Raccoon Butterflyfish have more intense coloring than the juveniles, and the juveniles are missing the middle black band. The juveniles do, however, have a false eyespot near their top anterior; this will blend as the fish reaches maturity.
Distinguishing between males and females is impossible by looking at physical characteristics.
Habitat and Tank Conditions
A Fish Only with Live Rock (FOWLR) setup is ideal for Raccoon Butterflyfish. The FOWLR aquascape is an extremely popular choice for home saltwater tanks, particularly if you have pets that are not reef safe.
Live rock can be a misleading term, as the rock is not actually alive like a coral reef. Instead, the “live” rock is composed of the skeletons of dead coral, thus it is really previously alive.
For the substrate, 1 to 5 inches of fine sugar sand is a good choice for a FOWLR setup; the Raccoon Butterflyfish need a very clean tank, and the fine sugar sand is easy to clean and keep the nitrate and ammonia levels in check.
As for decorations, Raccoon Butterflyfish need copious hiding places, so the rocks are necessary. However, they also don’t like to be crowded and need space for swimming; this is one reason a larger tank is required. They need refuge and territory to lay claim to, but they also need ample space to
stretch out and swim.
Avoid crowding your Raccoon Butterflyfish at all costs.
Because of their need for high water quality, you will need an excellent filtration system (that will also help provide the fast current they need). You’ll also need to use some elbow grease and do some physical cleaning, too.
Raccoon Butterflyfish prefer medium lighting despite their nocturnal nature.
Raccoon Butterflyfish need water that is highly oxygenated. You should perform a 10-15% partial water change every other week, or 20-25% monthly. They are pretty easy going as far as parameters go, but are sensitive to drastic changes in water chemistry.
The optimal parameters to ensure a close match to their natural habitat are:
- pH levels: 8.2 – 8.4
- Water hardness: 8 to 12 dKH
- Water temperature: 74°F – 80°F (22°C – 27°C)
What Size Aquarium Do They Need?
You’ll need at least a 75-gallon (285 liters) tank for the 8-inch (20 cm) Raccoon Butterflyfish. These guys need space. They get aggressive and stressed out if they can’t claim territory and can’t swim freely.
Please note that the 75-gallon recommendation is for a single specimen. If you are looking to house multiple Raccoon Butterflyfish, you’ll need a larger tank.
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Raccoon Butterflyfish are pretty amenable to most tank mates, from smaller, non-aggressive to larger, more aggressive. You want to stay away from invertebrates that the Raccoon Butterflyfish might eat for lunch, as well as smaller but extremely territorial fish.
Suitable tank mates for Raccoon Butterflyfish:
- Apolemichthys Angelfish
- Centropyge Angelfish
- Chaetodontoplus Angelfish
- Fairy Basslets
- Genicanthus Angelfish
- Pygoplite Angelfish
Avoid these fish:
- Dwarf Lionfish
- Smaller Triggers
Keeping Raccoon Butterflyfish Together
In the wild, Raccoon Butterflyfish coexist fairly peacefully, but in captivity, you don’t want to keep multiples unless you have a tank that is at least 125 gallons (473 liters) since they can get territorial.
In their natural reef habitat, Raccoon Butterflyfish consume invertebrates such as nudibranchs and tubeworms, and they will also eat algae and coral polyps.
Some hobbyists report having difficulty getting their Raccoon Butterflyfish to eat when they are first introduced to the tank; if that happens, try feeding them some live or frozen fish cubes, which should entice their appetite. You could also get a small anemone to get their taste buds going.
Good choices for your Raccoon Butterflyfish include:
- Angel & Butterfly mix
- Brine shrimp
- Dried Seaweed
- Finely chopped mussels
- Mysis shrimp
Raccoon Butterflyfish are susceptible to parasitic infections like Marine Ich (Ick or white spot disease) Velvet, and Uronema marinum. They are also commonly afflicted with Lymphocystis, a viral infection.
The best way to prevent these highly infectious and potentially life-threatening diseases is to maintain a clean tank. Perform regular water checks and particularly watch out for high levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.
Additionally, providing a stress-free environment for Raccoon Butterflyfish will have beneficial effects on their immune system and also work to prevent disease. This means offering them spacious swimming quarters and places of refuge.
Feeding them a varied diet with lots of meaty protein sources as well as some algae also helps keep them healthy and stave off disease.
Cleaner fish like Neon Gobies can also help keep your aquarium sparkling and maintain the best water chemistry.
If your Raccoon Butterflyfish does fall ill, keep an eye on them when medicating them. They can be sensitive and sometimes intolerant to medication. Be prepared to move your fish to a separate area if they seem stressed.
First of all, I do not recommend attempting to breed Raccoon Butterflyfish in your home aquarium. They have not been successfully bred in captivity, even by professionals.
However, it’s good to educate yourself about how your pets live life in the wild, so here’s what happens when it’s time for baby Raccoon Butterflyfish. Raccoon Butterflyfish are egg scatterers.
They form pairs during breeding, and then the female will release her eggs when the tide and lunar cycle are right. The male fertilizes the eggs in the water and the current takes the eggs. The eggs become part of the planktonic water column and float with the currents until they hatch. When they do hatch, the fry,
in a post-larval state, are covered with bony plates that protect them.
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Are Raccoon Butterflyfish Suitable for your Aquarium?
If you’re looking for a colorful and entertaining addition to your FOWLR tank, Raccoon Butterflyfish are a great option. With their eye-catching color pattern and flattened, disk-shaped bodies, these nocturnal beauties really make your tank stand out.
These fish need an established tank in order to thrive, and they also don’t do so well in a reef tank. Well, they do fine, but your coral won’t.
If you have the space for an extra-large aquarium setup, Raccoon Butterflyfish may just be right for you.
If you love the way they look, but only have a smaller tank, I recommend you enjoy them from afar or take a tropical vacation to see them in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, without ample space, Raccoon Butterflyfish will not thrive, and it’s not fair to crowd these amazing fish.
Do you think Raccoon Butterflyfish are a great option for a saltwater tank? Do you have experience raising them? Do you have any questions about these unique fish? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!