The raccoon butterflyfish is a widespread species found throughout the Indo-Pacific from Hawaii to South Africa and parts of Australia. Due to its large range, it has many common names – including halfmoon, moon and red-striped butterflyfish.
This species is easily identified by its black-and- white mask, which resembles that of a racoon. Otherwise, it is predominantly yellow and black in colour with reddish-yellow stripes on its flanks. Racoon butterflyfish are found on rocky reefs at depths of up to 60 metres, and can grow up to 20 centimetres in length. They are usually found singly or in small groups, and form pairs during breeding season. Racoon butterflyfish feed nocturnally on a diet made up of nudibranchs, coral polyps and tubeworm tentacles.
The white-spotted butterflyfish has an impressive collection of common names, including the blacklip butterflyfish, the sunburst butterflyfish and the Klein’s butterflyfish (from which its Latin name is derived). It is found
throughout most of the Indo-Pacific, at depths of up to 60 metres. Although not a strict rule, it generally prefers reefs that are deeper than 10 metres, and is often associated with areas of abundant coral cover. White-spotted butterflyfish are yellow-brown in colour, and have between one and three pale vertical bars depending on the region in which they live. They also have a characteristic vertical black eye-stripe and black snout. White-spotted butterflyfish feed on hard and soft corals, and can form groups of up to 30 individuals.
The beautiful pearly butterflyfish is known by many different names, including the Madagascar, Seychelles and pearlscale butterflyfish. It is found throughout the Indian
Ocean, from East Africa to Sri Lanka and Sumatra in Indonesia. They grow up to 13 centimetres in length and can be easily distinguished by their silver-white bodies, which give off a pearlescent sheen. They have distinct dark grey chevron markings on their flanks, and a thick vertical orange band towards their tail fin. Pearly butterflyfish also sport a white-edged black crown spot, and a vertical black eye-stripe. They feed on algae and benthic invertebrates, and typically occur in pairs. Females are oviparous, which means that they lay eggs, and they are currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
Yellow Teardrop Butterflyfish
Found in the Indian Ocean from South Africa to western Thailand, the yellow teardrop butterflyfish favours reefs up to 45 metres deep. It is usually found singly or in small groups – but forms pairs
during breeding season and is believed to be monogamous. Reaching 20 centimetres in length, these butterflyfish are lemon yellow in colour, with a vertical black eye-stripe and a circular black patch on their upper flank. The yellow teardrop butterflyfish’s tail fin is transparent, and the back edge of its body is lined with black. They are usually found in areas with abundant coral, and feed upon coral fragments. At the moment, they are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, although the effect of climate change on coral cover could affect the species in the future.
Threadfin butterflyfish are tropical reef fish native to the Indo-Pacific, from the Red Sea and South Africa in the west of their range, to Japan and Australia in the east of their range. Despite their large distribution, individual threadfins are thought to be residential,
staying on the same patch of reef their whole life. They are typically found at depths of up to 35 metres, either singly, in pairs on in small aggregations. Threadfin butterflyfish can grow up to 23 centimetres long, and have white bodies barred by distinctive chevron markings. The latter part of their body is yellow, and they are easily identified by the thread-like edge of their dorsal fin. They feed on sea anemones, coral polyps and algae, and form pairs during breeding season.
Also known as the Blackburn’s butterflyfish, the brownburnie is native to the southwest Indian Ocean. It is found as far north as Kenya and as far south as South Africa, and can also be seen on the reefs of Madagascar, Mauritius and Réunion. It prefers tropical waters as deep as 55 meters, and is
usually found on rocky, sloping reefs. Brownburnies are small butterflyfish, growing up to 13 centimetres in length; and have a dark brown body with a silver or yellow face intersected by a vertical dark eye-stripe. Its drab colouring makes it unappealing to the aquarium trade, and as such it is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List despite its small range. Brownburnies are oviparous, meaning that they lay eggs; and are typically found singly or in pairs.
The gorgeous gussy is also known as the peppered butterflyfish, due to its distinctive markings. It has a creamy-yellow coloured body, covered in small grey spots. Its dorsal fin is tipped with yellow, and there is a bright orange spot above its tail fin.
Gorgeous gussies have a vertical black stripe across their eyes, and are usually edged with blue. They grow up to 12 centimetres, and are found in the Indian Ocean from South Africa to Indonesia. They are found singly, in pairs or in small groups, and form close pairs during breeding season. Gorgeous gussies lay eggs, and feed on live coral – a trait that may cause them to be threatened if bleaching triggers mass coral die-off in the areas where they live. Nevertheless, they are currently classified as a Least Concern species.
Often referred to as the blackedged butterflyfish, the African butterflyfish is endemic to the western Indian Ocean. It is found from Somalia to South Africa (including the islands of the Seychelles, Mauritius and Réunion).
KwaZulu-Natal, the South African province that includes Aliwal Shoal, marks the southernmost limit of its range. The African butterflyfish is pale silvery-yellow in colour, with a distinctive vertical black eye-stripe and a thick vertical band of black at the rear of its body. Its dorsal and anal fins are tipped with white, and its tail fin is yellow. African butterflyfish are unusually deep-dwelling, and are typically found on rocky or coral rubble reefs between 30 and 200 metres. Because of this, relatively little is known about this species.
Other Butterflyfish found on our reef
Belted Butterflyfish – Hemitaurichthys zoster
Coachman – Heniochus acuminatus
Doublesash Butterflyfish – Chaetodon marleyi
Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish – Forcipiger flavissimus
Schooling Coachman – Heniochus diphreutes
Vagabond Butterflyfish – Chaetodon vagabundus