Saltwater Fish

Copperband Butterfly Keeping 101: A Thorough Guide

Species Overview

Common Name: Copperband Butterflyfish, Beaked Coral Fish, Beaked Butterflyfish

Scientific Name: Chelmon Rostratus

Adult Size: 8 inches

Life Expectancy: 6-10 years


Family: Chaetodontidae

Origin: Indo-Pacific Oceans

Social: Peaceful

Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons

Diet: Carnivore

Breeding: Monogamous, egg-laying

Care: Difficult

pH: 8.1 – 8.4

Hardness: 8 – 12 dKH

Temperature: 75 to 84 F

Are you looking for a colorful new member of your saltwater community?

How about an excellent anemone control?

The Copperband Butterflyfish is a tropical reef-dweller known to be a little challenging to take care of like most of its co-species.

But if you’re looking for a vibrant addition to your reef aquarium or peaceful community tank, this striped butterflyfish might be exactly what you’re looking for.

While most aquarists have their eyes out on the Copperband Butterfly because of its appearance which adds to the appeal of their aquarium, those who are well-versed in these species are attracted to the fish for the advantages they bring to tank health.

While there are some that get them just for that reason and fail to take care of them, most of the people who take good care of their Copperband Butterfly are those who are already experienced in all things tropical fish related.

Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus)

Copperband Butterfly General Overview

The Copperband Butterfly belongs to a family of fish called the Chaetodontidae, which also includes the bannerfish and coralfish.

They are among the most widely recognized coral reef fishes.

There are 129 species related to the Copperband Butterfly, all of which popular in aquarium trade for their vivid colors and distinct patters, but this species is most attractive among aquarists because of its vibrant color, patterns, and high-maintenance needs.

They are easily identified with their silver and orange striped disc-shaped body and the false eyespot on the rear of their dorsal fin.

One defining feature that they also have is their long snout which they use for hunting food in hard-to-reach places.

They can grow up to 8 inches at the most in the wild. In a home aquarium, however, they usually only grow into half of that size. They have a six-year lifespan but with the right care, they can live for up to 10 years.

Naturally, Copperband Butterflyfish, like their co-species are found occupying tropical and warm temperature waters, along rocky reefs, seagrass habitats, deep mudflats, and shallow lagoons.

They are frequently in the Indio-Pacific Ocean about 1 – 25 meters deep from the surface, living among corals and reefs in warm, alkaline waters.

They have a usually peaceful temperament with other compatible fish, but they can get aggressive with other species of butterflyfish and inappropriate tank mates.

They are fast and agile fish that quickly dart to safety when they get scared.

As mentioned above, butterflyfish are some of the harder-to-keep species, while some of them adapt well to tank life, others are nearly impossible to keep.

Not only are they difficult to breed in captivity but they can also be vulnerable to infections and disease – the Copperband Butterfly is no exception, especially with its picky eating habits.

Taking care of and maintaining this species is not an easy task but here’s everything you need to know about keeping a Copperband Butterflyfish.

1. Tank Settings

The Copperband Butterfly is a very delicate species, that is why inexperienced aquarists should not keep them in their saltwater tanks.

They require excellent tank conditions to thrive and survive, as well as experience in tropical fish care.

· Tank Size and Environment

The recommended tank size is 75 gallons with the right depth for a single fish and 125 gallons if you put two of the same species in the same tank to accommodate its size and territorial tendencies.

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Mimicking its natural habitat keeps the fish happy and healthy as they won’t have to go through any major changes after being introduced to the new environment.

They are found in tropical saltwater reefs so adding fine sand and crushed corals as substrate at the bottom of your tank will recreate the environment they are used to and will help them adapt.

The Copperband butterflyfish’s snout is, not only a distinctive physical feature, but is also its main tool for feeding itself, they hunt for food in caves, crevices, and cracks that can only be reached by their snout, so setting up reef-like surroundings will create a familiar environment for them to explore.

Imitating the day-night cycle that the fish is accustomed to in its natural habitat can be achieved by adding lighting to your aquarium setup.

This will help the fish determine when it should or should not be resting, as they are diurnal fish, they are more active during the day than they are at night.

You do not have to invest in a whole lighting system for your aquarium, but these fish are just like us, so maybe make it a habit to turn the light off for them before you go to bed yourself.

· Water Conditions

Copperband Butterflies must be kept in a tank with slow-flowing saltwater with a constant temperature of 75 – 84 F to simulate the climate of the fish’s natural habitat.

They are very sensitive to changes in water quality and conditions, so it is important to follow their natural atmosphere.

Keeping the water at a certain temperature can be achieved by using a water heater. For tropical fish tanks, water heaters are essential.

There are different kinds of equipment you can use for your tank depending on what suits your needs best, you can use one that goes into the water or one that is hung outside of the tank.

A water heater can aid in keeping the water temperature stable, this helps in making sure that there will be no sudden changes.

The water needs to stay clear and clean inside the tank, using a good water filter and a pump is highly recommended to keep the water flowing, clear out debris and toxic buildup of ammonia, and keep the gas exchange moving so the fish can breathe.

An air pump is not necessary for your tank setup, as long as you have an adequate concentration of oxygen, but you must get a water filter to keep your water clean.

This is a delicate species that is easily stressed so it is best to carefully monitor the water’s temperature.

The pH levels should be kept at 8.1 – 8.4 and water hardness should be maintained at 8 – 12 dKH because this species needs to be kept in alkaline water, if these levels do not reach these numbers there is a risk of bacteria building up.

2. Tank Mates

As much as possible, Copperband Butterflies should be kept individually as they can be territorial.

Butterflyfish species are known to display aggressive behavior towards each other which is why it is not advisable to put them in the same tank.

These fish can be housed in the same tank together with other reef-friendly species like:

· Chromis

· Pajama Cardinal

· Clownfish

· Damselfish

· Gobies

· Dragonets

Make sure that you do not put stress-inducing or hostile fish with them because they get stressed easily. Invertebrates aren’t suitable tank mates as well because Copperband Butterflyfish feed off them in the wild.

Remember not to overcrowd your tank because this might create a competitive environment that isn’t healthy for any of the fish.

Chelmon rostratus (Copperband Butterflyfish)

3. Diet and Feeding

They can be finicky eaters and might take a while before they start eating regularly after you introduce them to a new tank.

Most nervous and stressed fish are often hard to feed, you only need patience until the fish gets comfortable in its new environment.

In their natural habitat, they feed off an invasive coral species called aiptasia, worms, and even tiny shrimp. As a carnivorous species, it is important to sustain their protein-rich diet with the right nutrients.

They mostly feed on soft-bodied live foods, like clams, bloodworms, mysid shrimps, brine shrimps, and even insect larvae are good to feed your Copperband Butterfly.

Prioritize giving them live foods while experimenting with different types of food.

Feeding them high-protein and mineral-rich pellets three times a week is also recommended to help meet their nutritional needs.

In aquariums, they hunt for their food in the middle or lower sections. With their long snouts, they can easily poke into small spaces and find food that other fish might not be able to.

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They are day-time eaters that is why it is also important to apply a light cycle in your aquarium to create a natural clock for them, to signal when it is time to eat, or hunt.

Without the cycle, they might get confused and refuse to eat even more.

You cannot force them to eat, they will disregard any food you put into the aquarium if they do not have an appetite and leftover food can contaminate your water, making it dirty which you do not want for your Copperband Butterfly.

4. Breeding

As said before, the Copperband Butterfly, like other species of butterflyfish, can be hostile to each other, which makes them challenging to breed in captivity.

In the wild, however, these fish form monogamous pairs, meaning they only reproduce with one mate for their whole lifespan. They are egg-laying and produce thousands of eggs at a time.

According to research, tropical spawning activity usually peaks in winter and early spring. They usually spawn at dusk, where the female is obviously distended with eggs, the male will swim behind or below her and start nudging her abdomen with his snout.

They pair will rise in the water column and release their sperm and egg cells in a white cloud and rush back to the bottom.

Other males of the species have been seen trying to rush over towards the white cloud to add their own sperm in.

Their eggs are spherical and transparent, they usually hatch in 28 – 30 hours.

One of the unique characteristics in the butterflyfish development is the fact that the larvae passes through a stage called thoylycthys, wherein a bony sheath encases the head.

It then extends to form the spines that become foundation of the development of the dorsal fin.

It is unlikely that this species care for their eggs or their young. The eggs are fertilized 10 – 15 meters above their natural habitat and are left with their own protective armor.

5. Diseases

Copperband butterflies are prone to catching common saltwater diseases due to changing water conditions or stressful environments, including:

· Saltwater Ich

This is a skin condition caused by a parasite called Cryptocaryon irritans. Affected fish have irritated white spots on their bodies.

Loss of appetite and fatigue are common symptoms in affected fish. If left untreated, saltwater ich can lead to respiratory diseases, irritation, and death.

To treat the disease, move the infected fish from its main tank to a bare-bottom tank and add controlled amounts of a treatment product to the water. UV sterilizers can also be used to kill Cryptocaryon irritans.

· Lymphocystis

Distinctive symptoms of lymphocystis are clusters or individual raised, light-colored nodules on the fish’s skin.

This disease is caused by a subfamily of viruses called lymphocystivirus because of water issues or by introducing an infected fish into a tank without properly quarantining it first.

There is no known treatment for lymphocystis but affected fish can receive supportive care to prevent an outbreak of the disease by reducing stressors in the tank and providing a high-nutrient diet.

· Marine Velvet

Velvet is a skin and respiratory disease caused by Oodinium in freshwater fish, marine velvet is its saltwater counterpart.

For saltwater fish, instead of Oodinium, they contract a parasite called Amyloodinium ocellatum that causes a dusting of brown-gold or green particles on the fish’s body.

These are the symptoms observed in fish infected by marine velvet: flashing (swimming aimlessly around the tank and rubbing on rough surfaces), lethargy, and keeping their fins close to their bodies.

In severe cases, or if left untreated, marine velvet causes difficulty of breathing and loss of appetite.

To treat velvet, copper treatment products are added to the saltwater tank.

· Uronema Marinum

Uronema marinum is a parasitic infection that is fatal to saltwater fish. The parasites behind the disease live, feed, and reproduce directly on the fish, they eat the fish’s muscles and internal organs that’s why they can be deadly if overlooked.

Tell-tale signs of the disease are large red spots that can be found on the fish.

Like other diseases, uronemo marinum mostly infects already weakened fish, so the best way to prevent the disease from plaguing your aquarium is to keep it clean.

Make sure that your fish are healthy and well-fed, and also remember not to overcrowd your tank. Symptoms of uronema marinum also include flashing, rapid breathing, loss of color, dehydration, and weight loss.

There are several ways to treat the disease, however.

You can bathe your fish in a freshwater tank for not more than 3 minutes or until it shows signs of stress, you can also keep them in a low-salinity hospital tank for 21 days, but this treatment should not be used for sensitive species.

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Some chemical treatments and antibiotics can help cure the disease.

copperband butterfly fish in closeup

Natural Conservation

In 1994, four species of butterflyfish were at risk of being extinct. This was decided based on the decreased number of places they are found which suggests their susceptibility to human activities.

While the Copperband Butterfly was not among these species, it is still important to note that these fish are captured in the wild, there is no evidence that suggest that they can be bred captivity just yet so that is the only way they can be harvested and sold in the market.

Most tropical fish already require a lot of care when put in aquariums, this species is no different.

But we must also remember that they are not only fun and decorative aids to our hobbies but real living things that, if not cared for properly, could completely disappear in the future.

Make sure that your Copperband Butterfly is harvested and sold ethically. You do not want to be part of the reason that they go extinct.

Ask your seller how and where they received the fish, this will also give you a heads up on the fish’s health and condition.

As part of the hobby of buying, taking care of, and preserving fish species, you must, firstly, protect their natural habitat.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I add my Copperband Butterfly to my tank immediately?

No, Copperband Butterflies are very sensitive to changes in water conditions, so it is best to get them situated in the new environment first.

2. Can I use tap water for my tank?

The pH level for a copperband tank should be 8.1 – 8.4 which means that the water should be Alkaline, tap water only has a pH level of 7.

3. How often should I feed my Copperband Butterfly?

This species is a reluctant eater, but you must feed them 3 times a day with live food to keep the sustained.

4. My Copperband Butterfly looks pale, what should I do?

Stress and disease cause copperbands to lose their color. Figure out if the environment is causing them stress or if they have contracted an infection and treat it immediately.

5. Can I leave my aquarium lights on?

Yes, but day and night cycles are important for this species because their energy levels differ at different times of the day, so they need to know when to rest.

6. Should I put other fish in with my Copperband Butterfly?

You must make sure that the fish you place in your tank with them is compatible with their temperament and behavior because they can get aggressive or get stressed.

7. I’m a new saltwater aquarist, can I get a Copperband Butterfly?

Copperband butterflies have very high-care needs, so they might not be the best choice for a first or beginner fish for your saltwater aquarium both for you and the fish.

They need a lot of delicate care and attention, as well as specific tank setups.

8. I can’t find my Copperband Butterfly inside the tank.

You should check the surrounding areas as this species tends to jump up when they are kept in a tank with another aggressive fish.

They naturally live in deep waters so it is easier for them to get away from any aggressors but being in a tank is very different.

9. What are Copperband Butterflyfish good for?

Aside from its vibrant and beautiful appearance, which is a feature most fish keepers are after, the Copperband Butterflyfish feeds on aiptasia, an anemone that kills coral and clams, so they are a great way to control glass anemone and aiptasia in reef aquariums.

10. Where can I get Copperband Butterflyfish?

They are available in several saltwater fish stores and online fish dealers. They are widely stocked but they can be a little pricey.

Final Thoughts

Taking care of the Copperband Butterflyfish is not something to be taken lightly, they require a lot of care and attention to detail to survive and thrive.

From water conditions to tank requirements and equipment, they need to be kept in a specific environment that caters to their sensitivity.

They naturally live in reefs, so it is important to create a similar environment for them to live in, with the right substrate, the right climate, and the right community.

Feeding habits and health statuses are also things you need to pay attention to, especially since they are delicate and vulnerable.

They need to consume the right amount of nutrients to continue being as vibrant as they are.

This is only a care guide; it is meant to guide those who decide to take up the challenge. Situations may vary and other Copperband Butterflies may react, adapt, and develop differently than others.

Taking care of any kind of fish is a worthy challenge, but a genuine love for the craft and the creature surely goes a long way.


Passionate fishkeeper. Nature lover. Creative thinker. Music junkie. Adventurer.

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