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Banded Butterflyfishes, Chaetodon striatus

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Description & Behavior

Banded butterflyfishes, also called banded mariposas, butterbuns, butterflyfishes, Portugese butterflies, and school mistresses, were first described by Carl Linnaeus as Chaetodon striatus in 1758. The family name "Chaetodontidae" means "bristle-tooth," while "striatus" refers to their thick black vertical stripes — two on their sides and a third extending from their dorsal fin to their caudal peduncles (tails). Their pelvic fins, except for the spine, are also black. A well-known denizen of commercial aquariums, this species has a short snout and a vertically flattened, squarish "disk-shaped" body. They have 12 dorsal spines, 19 to 21 dorsal soft rays, 3 anal spines, and 16 to 17 anal soft rays. Adult banded butterflyfishes grow to a maximum length of about 15 cm. Maturity is reached at lengths around 12 cm.

World Range & Habitat

Banded butterflyfishes, Chaetodon striatus, are associated with tropical marine reefs from 43° N to 23° S, at depths of 3 to 55 meters. In the Western Atlantic, they can be found from Massachusetts to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. In the central Atlantic they are found off St. Paul's Rocks.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Banded butterflyfishes, Chaetodon striatus, feed primarily on polychaete worms, coral polyps, crustaceans and mollusk eggs, scraping off the invertebrates with their bristly teeth. Adults may form plankton-feeding aggregations of up to 20 individuals, and they occasionally clean other reef fishes which join the group, such as grunts, parrotfishes and surgeon fishes. They are a diurnal species, active during the day and sleeping at night. At the end of the day they seeks shelter from night predators such as moray eels, sharks, and other larger reef fishes.

Life History

Banded butterflyfishes, Chaetodon striatus, reproduce quickly. Their minimum population doubling time is less than 15 months. Banded butterflyfish adults are most often seen in male-female pairs and may be monogamous throughout life. Courtship between the two is drawn out and energetic; the fish circle each other, head to tail, then chase each other around the nearest coral reef, shooing away other fish that dare to approach. Spawning takes place at dusk as the female releases 3,000 to 4,000 small, pelagic eggs. The larvae, which hatch within a day, are characteristic only to the butterflyfish family, with the head encased in bony armor and bony plates extending backwards from their heads. The larvae are gray and almost transparent, useful adaptations for any species growing up in the water column. By 24 hours after hatching, however, they have taken on the color of juveniles. Juveniles look different from adults; they have a large, ringed black spot at the base of their dorsal fins that acts as a false eye, confusing predators as to which end is the front of the fish. Juveniles may retain this spot up to a size of 5 centimeters, after which it begins to fade away. The overall body color of juveniles is brownish-yellow instead of white and may serve as camouflage, as banded butterflyfish juveniles often inhabit sea grass beds.

Conservation Status & Comments

Banded butterflyfishes are neither endangered nor dangerous to humans, though they do present a small problem for aquarium keepers — their strange diet is difficult to reproduce in a tank. In the wild, the fish tends to ignore divers, but will swim away if approached.

IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern (LC):

"A taxon is Least Concern when it has been evaluated against the criteria and does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category."

Resilience to fishing pressure: High, minimum population doubling time less than 15 months
Extinction vulnerability to fishing: Low vulnerability (12 of 100)

References & Further Research


Research Chaetodon striatus » Barcode of Life ~ Taxonomy ~ BioOne ~ Biodiversity Heritage Library ~ CITES ~ Cornell Macaulay Library [audio / video] ~ Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ~ ESA Online Journals ~ FishBase ~ Florida Museum of Natural History ~ GBIF ~ Google Scholar ~ ITIS ~ IUCN RedList (Threatened Status) ~ Marine Species Identification Portal ~ NCBI (PubMed, GenBank, etc.) ~ Ocean Biogeographic Information System ~ PLOS ~ SIRIS ~ Tree of Life Web Project ~ UNEP-WCMC Species + Database ~ WoRMS

Search for Banded Butterflyfishes » ARKive ~ Flickr ~ Google ~ Creative Commons search ~ Wikipedia ~ YouTube

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