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Adding Butterflyfish to Reef Tank





The colorful and vibrant looks of the Butterfly fish is remarkable and adding them amongst the colorful corals will no doubt augment the overall appearance of the aquarium. However, the common reef compatibility problem and doubts lead to the belief that they are not so reef safe and hence ignored in these tanks.

Some of them have been found to cause harm to corals but that does not mean all butterfly fishes are unsafe. There are species that have been found to live well in saltwater tanks just as in their natural habitat. The general rule says that butterflyfishes are less prone to cause problems with corals if they are fed well and given plenty of space and distractions. As you might envisage, a few small fragments of coral in a small tank are much more likely to receive a butterflyfish’s attention than several massive colonies of coral in a larger tank. Although there are plenty of examples of great reef aquariums that break the rules with greedy butterflyfishes, these fish are usually added after the tank have matured for several years to a point where the corals can bear a little scrape here and there.

After all these cautions you can read further to recognize some butterflyfish that you can count on.

Chaetodon guttatissimus

Common names: Spotted butterflyfish
Distribution: Indian Ocean: Red Sea south to Durban, South Africa and east to Christmas Island. Reported from western Thailand and Bali, Indonesia.
Minimum tank size: 70 gallons
Size: To 5 inches
Natural foods: Feed on polychaetes, coral polyps and algae
Associations: Inhabit lagoon and seaward reefs. Occur in pairs or small groups. Form pairs during breeding.
Care level: Medium to difficult
Notes: Rarely seen in the trade. Aggressive to conspecifics. Requires a varied diet with numerous feedings per day.

Chaetodon pelewensis

Common names: Dot-and-dash or sunset butterflyfish
Distribution: Pacific Ocean: Australia to Fiji, Samoa, Tuamoto Archipelago and the Society Islands
Minimum tank size: 70 gallons
Size: To 5 inches
Natural foods: Coral polyps and small benthic invertebrates
Associations: Over reefs and rocks
Care level: Moderate
Notes: This fish does best when kept in large, peaceful community aquariums decorated with large amounts of live rock. It should not be kept with conspecifics or similar butterflyfish, and it should not be kept with any stress-inducing fish. Most can adapt easily to tank life and will willingly accept nearly all kinds of food.
These Butterflyfishes are safe for Stony Corals:

Chaetodon trichrous

Common names: Tahiti butterflyfish
Distribution: Eastern Pacific: Society Islands, Tahiti and Tuamoto Islands. Despite its relatively limited distribution range, this species occurs in large populations.
Minimum tank size: 70 gallons
Size: To 5 inches
Natural foods: There is limited knowledge of its diet, but it has been seen feeding off the substrate and plankton.
Associations: Generally localized to just a few islands in French Polynesia. Found in lagoon reefs, usually solitary or paired. Form pairs during breeding.
Care level: Easy
Notes: A good species of butterflyfish to start with for aquarists with limited experience. It will take flake food once acclimated. Best in trios until a pair is established, then remove the third fish.

Chaetodon vagabundus

Common names: Vagabond butterflyfish
Distribution: Indo-Pacific: Red Sea and East Africa to the Line and Tuamoto islands, north to southern Japan, south to the Lord Howe and the Austral islands.
Minimum tank size: 120 gallons
Size: To 9 inches
Natural foods: Omnivorous, feed on algae, coral polyps, crustaceans and worms.
Associations: Found in reef flats, lagoon and seaward reefs and sometimes in turbid waters subject to freshwater runoff. Swim in pairs. Stable monogamous pairs with both pair members jointly defending a feeding territory against other pairs. Often accompanies other species without being aggressive.
Care level: Easy
Notes: Closely related to Chaetodon decussatus. One of the easiest butterflyfishes to acclimate to captive conditions. Can be kept in pairs.

Chaetodon wiebeli

Common names: Wiebel’s butterflyfish Distribution: Western Pacific: Japan to Thailand; including the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand
Minimum tank size: 120 gallons
Size: To 7 inches
Natural foods: Benthic invertebrates, algae
Associations: Occur in rocky and coral reef areas where they are found in pairs and small groups. Form pairs during breeding.
Care level: Moderate. Rarely seen in the trade but is actually a good reef aquarium fish.
Notes: Requires vitamin-enriched meaty and algae-based foods fed numerous times per day.

Heniochus chrysostomus

Common names: Pennant or three band butterflyfish
Distribution: Indo-Pacific: Western India to Pitcairn Islands, north to southern Japan, south to Rowley Shoals, southern Queensland and New Caledonia; throughout Micronesia
Minimum tank size: 100 gallons
Size: To 7 inches
Natural foods: Zoobenthos, cnidarians, some hard corals
Associations: Common in coral-rich areas of subtidal reef flats and lagoon and seaward reefs. Juveniles are solitary and usually found in estuaries and lagoons. Form pairs during breeding.
Care level: Easy
Notes: Easily maintained in the aquarium and will accept a wide variety of foods, including fortified brine shrimp,Mysis and chopped seafood. Herbivore food should also be offered. Requires several feedings per day. The yellow snout remains through adulthood. May be kept in pairs if introduced at the same time, otherwise territorial disputes may arise. This fish acclimates much better if kept with docile tankmates.

Heniochus varius

Common names: Brown, horned or humphead butterflyfish
Distribution: Pacific Ocean: Indonesia to the Society Islands, north to southern Japan, south to Rowley Shoals and New Caledonia; throughout Micronesia. Reported from Christmas Island in the eastern Indian Ocean. Replaced by Heniochus pleurotaenia in the Indian Ocean.
Minimum tank size: 100 gallons
Size: To 8 inches
Natural foods: Benthic invertebrates, corals Associations: Occur in deep lagoons and steep outer reef slopes, with mixed algae and coral growth. Solitary or in small groups. Form pairs during breeding.
Care level: Medium to difficult
Notes: Adults develop a prominent hump on the forehead and a curved horn above each eye, and lose the elongate dorsal filament. If frightened, feeding may stop. Keep with docile tankmates, and provide caves and overhangs for security.

Prognathodes aculeatus

Common names: Atlantic long snout butterflyfish
Distribution: Western Atlantic: southern Florida and the western Gulf of Mexico to the West Indies-Caribbean region and Venezuela
Minimum tank size: 70 gallons
Size: To 4 inches
Natural foods: Feed on small invertebrates. Often seen nibbling on the tube feet of sea urchins or the tentacles of tubeworms, other annelids.
Associations: Inhabit deep coral-rich reefs and drop-offs. Unlike some butterflyfish, it does not pick parasites from the bodies of other fish. Solitary, but sometimes seen in pairs. Seeks refuge when approached. Form pairs during breeding.
Care level: Moderate
Notes: Rarely seen in the trade. Requires a varied diet including frozen foods and quality flake foods. Blackworms or bloodworms may be required to get it feeding. Three to four feedings per day recommended. Can acclimate to captive conditions well if provided hiding places to retire in at night. Docile tankmates are highly recommended.

Chaetodon falcula

Common names: Saddleback butterflyfish
Distribution: Indian Ocean: East Africa south to 27 degrees south and east to Indonesia
Minimum tank size: 120 gallons Size: To 8 inches
Natural foods: Feeds mainly on invertebrates
Associations: Found on the reef edge and upper slope. Usually in current-prone habitats; juveniles secretive in corals. Generally seen in pairs or in small aggregations. Form pairs when breeding.
Care level: Medium to difficult
Notes: Feed a variety of enriched frozen foods (meaty and algae); quality flake foods may be fed as well. Numerous feedings per day recommended. Difficult feeders can be started with blackworms, bloodworms and unwanted anemones. Needs plenty of swimming room, especially adults. Provide plenty of live rock with open caves for security.

Chaetodon xanthurus

Common names: Pearlscale butterflyfish
Distribution: Western Pacific: Indonesia and the Philippines, north to the Ryukyu Islands
Minimum tank size: 70 gallons
Size: To 5.5 inches
Natural foods: Feed on small benthic invertebrates and algae, similar to C. mertensii. Form pairs during breeding.
Associations: Clear coastal to outer reef slopes and drop-offs. Found around staghorn corals. The only member of the family with a crosshatch pattern of dark lines on the sides. Generally seen below 50 feet of depth and occurs singly or in pairs.
Care level: Easy to moderate