Photo: An ornate butterflyfish swimming near a coral reef

Butterflyfish are a common site near coral reefs, which they peck with their protruding snouts searching for polyps, worms, and other small invertebrates.

Photograph by Tim Laman

Map

Map: Butterflyfish range

Butterflyfish Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Fish
Diet:
Omnivore
Size:
8 in (20 cm)
Group name:
School
Did you know?
At night, butterflyfish settle into dark crevices, and their brilliant colors and markings fade to blend with the reef background.
Size relative to a tea cup:
Illustration: Butterflyfish compared with tea cup

Butterflyfish, with their amazing array of colors and patterns, are among the most common sights on reefs throughout the world.

Although some species are dull-colored, most wear intricate patterns with striking backgrounds of blue, red, orange, or yellow. Many have dark bands across their eyes and round, eye-like dots on their flanks to confuse predators as to which end to strike and in which direction they're likely to flee.

There are about 114 species of butterflyfish. They have thin, disk-shaped bodies that closely resemble their equally recognizable cousins, the angelfish. They spend their days tirelessly pecking at coral and rock formations with their long, thin snouts in search of coral polyps, worms, and other small invertebrates.

Some butterflyfish species travel in small schools, although many are solitary until they find a partner, with whom they may mate for life.

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