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Butter … Fly … Fish 25 Aug 2011

Posted by cat64fish in Tales from the N2 bar.

Three everyday words that, when put together, describe a very colourful fish, that is one of the key indicators of coral reef health. The logic behind it being a key indicator is the fact that most butterflyfish are either solely or partially dependent on corals as a source of food. Therefore, if the butterflyfish population in “healthy” or abundant, it means the reef is doing well also. Of course this does not mean that ALL butterfly fish can be used that way, since some of them do not feed on corals at all.

Anyways, I’ve spotted two new species of butterfly fish in Singapore over the last 3 years, and, similar to my post on anemonefishes, I thought it would be a good idea to continue writing about the common fish species on our reefs.

Presenting …… THE BUTTERFLYFISHES OF SINGAPORE! They are (in alphabetical order):

1. Chaetodon octofasciatus (Eight band / Eight-banded Butterflyfish)
Probably the most common butterflyfish in Singapore, they can be found on all our reefs, either alone or up to groups of 4. Juveniles tend to hide between the branches of coral (such as Acropora or Pocillopora) to avoid their enemies. They feed on corals (Allen, 1985).

2. Chaetodon adiergastos (Panda Butterflyfish)
This fish is a possible new record for Singapore, and was sighted at Kusu Island. IUCN lists Singapore as one of the countries that this fish occurs in, but does not mention the source of this information. Allen (1985) and Fishbase do not list Singapore as a site that this fish occurs in.

3. Chelmon rostratus (Copperband / Copperbanded Butterflyfish)
Photo by Eunice Khoo
The second most common butterflyfish on our reefs, this species has a fairly long snout, which it uses to good effect, snatching up crabs, worms and other invertebrates (Allen, 1985). Usually travels in pairs.

4. Coradion chrysozonus (Goldengirdled / Orangebanded Butterflyfish)
This fish is quite rare, and has been observed at Semakau and the St John’s group of islands. Lieske & Meyers (1994) say they feed on sponges, but Allen (1985) states that it has an omnivorous diet.

Heniochus varius (Horned / Humphead Bannerfish)
Only one sighting of this fish has been reported for Singapore so far (Low et al, 2009). They are thought to feed on corals and other invertebrates (Lieski and Meyers, 1994).

Parachaetodon ocellatus (Sixspined / Ocellate Butterflyfish)
Kite butterflyfish
Photo by Debby Ng
Another rarely seen fish, this species is usually seen in areas with seagrass beds (eg. Semakau). Is thought to be an omnivore (Allen, 1985).

A fish that is often mistaken for a butterflyfish is the Vermiculated Angelfish (Chaetodontoplus mesoleucus). It is a smallish and colorful angelfish, but has a spine on the operculum (a characteristic feature in angelfishes, but not found on butterflyfishes).
Photo by Khoo Minsheng


Allen, GR, 1985. Butterfly and angelfishes of the world. Vol 2. 352pp Mergus Publications, Germany.

Lieske, E and R Myers, 1994. Collins Pocket Guide. Coral reef fishes. Indo-Pacific & Caribbean including the Red Sea. Haper Collins Publishers, 400 p.

Low, JKY, JIT Tanzil & Z Jaafar, 2009. Some note-worthy fishes observed in the Singapore Straits. Nature in Singapore, 2: 77–82. [PDF, 554 KB]

On-line resources:


Nature in Singapore



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