The Copperband Butterfly

Copperband Butterfly

There are quite a few fish that could be said to fly the flag for the marine hobby. One of them is a member of the clownfish club, the so called common clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris, with its gaudy ‘painted on’ colours.

The fish that for me anyway is the king (or queen) of the reef is the copperband butterfly, Chelmon rostratus. It is striking in shape and colour, drawing the eye like a magnet.

The fish has the typical butterfly shape, though its body seems a little more elongated vertically. The colours are vertically striped, alternating between silver and more narrow ‘copper’, hence the name. The snout is long, and the tail clear. The fish could grow to around 5″ (circa 12.75cm). A suggested minimum aquarium length is 3 ft (circa 91.5cm), though larger is better.

The fish isn’t normally bothered by another of the same species in the aquarium, though aquarium size could have an effect on this. In addition, the food that the fish requires could well be exhausted if there are too many predating the same sources. It is generally best to have one, and to try to ensure that there aren’t any others that will also predate on the copperband’s prey.

Following on from the last paragraph, the best aquarium for the fish is a very mature reef system. This is because there is likely to be a considerable population of tiny life that the fish will hunt. It searches carefully for food, slowly moving along the rocks and using its long snout to drag food out when found. The fish is reef safe and is unlikely to damage corals. However, fanworms and some other worms will be attacked.

The usual fish that could be found in a reef system are reasonable tank mates for the copperband. Fish that are overly territorial and/or aggressive should be avoided. The copperband defends itself in the usual butterfly fish way; it dips forward and expands the dorsal fin, confronting the aggressor with spikes.

The copperband appears to be ideal for the reef aquarium and it is. However, there is one major potential drawback and this is feeding. When a copperband is purchased the aquarist takes a gamble on whether the fish will feed or not. It is reasonably certain that the fish will follow its instincts and hunt for live food as previously mentioned. However, is there enough live food among the reef structure to sustain it? When a copperband is being considered for purchase a request should be made to see it feeding, hopefully it will feed. Take a note of what the food supplied is, this could be used until the fish accepts a changed diet – if it does. There are as many aquarists who report trouble feeding the fish as there are who have no trouble at all.

When I kept a copperband it fed, but what a performance it was! There was insufficient live food in the aquarium to sustain it, so additional feeding had to be done, unfortunately the fish refused any food in the water column. I had to obtain a small sheet of acrylic and fasten some rock to it (the rock was cut so it had one flat side). The rock was full of holes and crevices so these were filled with defrosted food, anything from brine shrimp to bloodworm. The rock was then lowered into the aquarium and leaned against a glass panel. Sure enough, eventually the fish came and looked at the rock but didn’t take anything. It was decided that this was because the food didn’t move (I have no idea if this was the real reason) so I gently shook the rock plate until the copperband came and took some. Unfortunately, the fish never learned that the food was there anyway whether the rock shook or not, it wouldn’t eat unless the rock was shaken! So the copperband received dinner when the others had eaten theirs.

There is an alleged benefit with the copperband that could please reef aquarists immensely, and this is that it attacks and eats Aiptasia anemones. These anemones are the weeds of the aquarium and a real nuisance, the aquarist has to keep them under control or they will spread throughout the aquarium. The copperband as said could assist in the battle and possibly even control the anemones on its own. However, (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there), although many aquarists report the fish does indeed have a go at the anemones, including some well respected ones, there seems to be just as many who advise that their fish ignored them. It may be that the fish attacks the anemones, damaging them and keeping them closed up. I don’t actually know, but any assistance in the battle with Aiptasia can only be good!

The experienced aquarist who has a decent sized well aged reef aquarium could obtain a copperband, bearing in mind the comments on feeding. Hopefully the fish will feed well and find lots to eat within the aquarium. Also hopefully it will take food provided by the aquarist. If all is well, the captive reef will be adorned by a fish that is – what can I say – superb.

  1. Superb indeed.
    love this fish. he’s one of my favorites.
    I’m one of the lucky ones that has kept one alive.

    Felix Ramirezs last blog post..Movie Night | The Wrestler

  2. Hi Felix.

    Glad to hear of your success.

    Johns last blog post..The Copperband Butterfly

  3. thanks. here is a small video of him swimming around.

    this was posted a few months back. I will post a new video of my tank soon.

    Felix Ramirezs last blog post..Weekend Update

  4. Interesting video – thanks. He/she looks to be in really good condition, as do all the fish. You’ve live rock, so the copperband will probably feed a good bit from this, little beasties etc, as athey do in the wild.

    Johns last blog post..Sump Or Refugium?

  5. Please tell me what you feed your Copper Band and tell me something about it’s tank, if you don’t mind. Thanks

  6. Hello Eddie.
    The copperband mentioned is no longer with me, I lost it sometime in early 2008 possibly from a dietary deficiency. As said the fish was one of those that turned out to be finicky with food and wouldn’t take a variety as fed to the other fish in the tank.
    The tank was (is) a reef system with a heavy reef – by that I mean there were many rocks making up the reef which occupies at least 1/2 of the tanks capacity. The rocks were not ‘live’ but a dead reef safe type, very porous with many holes and crevices. Initially the tank was filtered by two mature cylinder power filters. As time passed these were turned off one by one and the rocks took over the filtration ie. they had matured with bacteria. By the time the copperband was introduced the power filters had been off for years and the system was very mature. Lighting is by fluorescents, marine whites and blues on a ‘day and night’ cycle (the two types of fluorescents turn on and off together with a 30 minute delay between them, the whites being first off and last on). Seawater quality was and is very high.
    The copperband was the last fish into the system and settled into the aquarium very well, there were no problems with the two other fish, a blue damsel and a flame angel which had been in residence for a long time.
    The copperband did its thing by constantly poking into the rocks looking for food – by observation it was seen to occasionally eat but clearly not enough. It was a great disappointment when it didn’t take any of the various foods offered which the other fish readily took. This is why the rock described above was prepared and used. The fish did then – eventually – eat adequately by quantity but still wouldn’t eat ‘normal’ fare. I tried stuffing marine flake and de-frozen marine type food into the holes in the rock to no avail. The only success was when de-frozen bloodworm went into the prepared rock holes, for some reason this seemed to attract the copperband but it still didn’t eat unless the rock was gently shaken. I assumed that this was because the worms then moved, if this was the case why wouldn’t it take the other marine foods tried! The copperband was with me for nearly a year and the frustration at feeding time for me was high. The responsibility for maintaining the fish was mine of course and patience was truly a virtue. The fish was lost possibly because of a dietary deficiency.
    As said, the copperband is a truly lovely fish and the aquarist who has one which feeds reasonably is lucky indeed!

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