Marine life identification guide > Butterflyfish & bannerfish

Butterflyfish and bannerfish species identification guide

Butterflyfish, some of the most beautiful coral reefs fish

Chaetodontidae (a large family comprising butterflyfish and bannerfish) are some of the most beautiful and colored reef fish. They are among the most common sights on reefs throughout the world, especially at low depth.

The 120 butterflyfish species are mainly found on shallow reefs in the tropical Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.

Threadfin butterflyfish in Hawaii
The threadfin butterflyfish is one of the most common and most distributed butterflyfish throughout the Indo-Pacific. In this picture, a couple encountered in Kahalu’u Bay, Hawaii.

They are well known for their brightly colored body and elaborate patterns and markings. Many have dark bands and one or more large “eyespots” on their flanks that may serve to confuse predators and a dark “mask” across their eyes.

Butterflyfish are deep-bodied and thin fish, with a relatively long snout and a small mouth, allowing them to feed on a variety of small crustaceans and on coral polyps.

Most species do not exceed a 20cm (8 inches) length. Butterflyfish form mating pairs that they remain with for life.

Where to spot butterflyfish while snorkeling?

The Indo-Pacific region is where most butterflyfish species are concentrated, with approximately 50 different species found in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Bluecheek butterflyfish in the Red Sea
The bluecheek butterflyfish, endemic to the Red Sea, is one of the most iconic reef fish. Here, two specimens photographed in Ras Um Sid, Egypt.

17 butterflyfish are found in Hawaii, including 3 endemic species: the bluestripe butterflyfish, the millet butterflyfish, and the pebbled butterflyfish.

Only 5 butterflyfish species -not the most colorful- occur in the Caribbean, the most frequently spotted there being the banded butterflyfish and the foureye butterflyfish.

5 butterflyfish are endemic of the Red Sea, including the majestic bluecheek butterflyfish.

Caribbean & Western Atlantic butterflyfish

Indopacific butterflyfish and bannerfish



Eastern Pacific Ocean butterflyfish

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