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Freshwater butterfly fish

The Pantodon buchholzi is also known as a flying fish because of its habit of jumping out of the water. This practice, which is not recommended in captivity, forces its keeper to take extreme precautions and always keep it in an aquarium with a lid.

The freshwater butterflyfish is classified within the Pantodontidae family within the order Osteoglossiformes. This order groups together the monkey fish known as Arowanas from South America within the Osteoglossum family and the dragon fish from Asia and Australia that are large and have huge mouths.

The fish we are dealing with does not have sizes as gigantic as those mentioned, but it does reach a size of 10 cm with a similar mouth oriented to feed directly on the surface of the water.

Distribution and habitat

The habitats of P. buchholzi are marshy waters and riverbanks in West Africa. It is an extraordinary insect hunter so it waits for its opportunity, on the surface, crouching in the shelter of a floating leaf or root. Its large pectoral fins allow it to propel itself with speed, making small flights over the surface in search of an insect that it has determined as prey.

Freshwater butterflyfish are found in stagnant, slightly acidic bodies of water in West Africa. They require a year-round temperature of 73 to 86 °F (23 to 30 °C). They are found in areas of slow or currentless currents with large amounts of surface foliage for cover. They are commonly seen in Lake Chad, the Congo Basin, throughout lower Niger, Cameroon, Ogooue, and the upper Zambezi. They have also been seen in the Niger Delta, lower Ogooue, and lower Cross River.


The general color of the fish is brownish, presenting a dark stripe that runs from the head to the caudal fin. The fins are presented in pink tones crossed by brown lines of different shades. A black spot that goes from eye to eye and crosses the head is particular to the species. It has a very small dorsal fin almost attached to the caudal peduncle.

The most striking of its morphology is its ventral fins, which are filamentous and of considerable size. These fins are a reference when it comes to distinguishing the sex of the animal. The males present the central rays united in the form of a tube. Females, on the other hand, have them straight, more pointed and, as a general rule, shorter.

Pantodon buchholzi

Aquarium maintenance of Pantodon buchholzi

In addition to the urgent need to provide our aquarium with a lid, we must not neglect the physical-chemical characteristics of the water, since they are important. The water should be soft and slightly acidic at values ​​between 6 and 6.5º. The general hardness around 10º and the temperature between 24 and 26ºC.

Although in most cases the species thrives in oxygen-poor waters in the aquarium, we must offer sufficient movement on the surface to enhance gas exchange. This surface break should not involve a high current because our animals will not feel comfortable.

Once acclimatized to the aquarium we will be able to observe how it develops with slow movements, always in the shelter of floating plants that give them security. It is normal that at feeding time it accelerates causing small jumps on the surface, so we must be especially careful. Manipulations in the aquarium such as in water changes can also have as a response a sudden jump of the fish in a stress situation.

Plants such as Riccia, Pistia or Salvina are highly recommended floating plants for the animal to feel comfortable. The Nenufar is another excellent choice.

Food and companions in the aquarium

Although it is not an aggressive species, it is a potential predator that will swallow anything that enters its mouth. Fish such as neons, small barbels or guppies should not be kept together with the species because they will be eaten.

To guarantee its health status and reduce stress situations, we should not keep it with species that compete for food on the surface. Medium or bottom level fish will be more suitable including dwarf cichlids, congo tetras and even rainbow fish.

In nature it feeds practically on live prey. As a substitute, frozen food is perfect… red mosquito larvae, daphnia or brine shrimp, for example. With dried foods the thing does not work as well and it will be very difficult for you to accept them. We can try to feed them with porridge rich in protein but they must be light so that they do not sink quickly. Anything that falls to the bottom will not be chased.

The upper orientation of its mouth clearly indicates that it feeds on the surface. If we do not have this clear consideration, we can generate skin ulcerations in the animal and other types of disorders due to food deficiencies. It is very likely that well fed, kept in pairs with optimal water conditions, it will give us a spawn in our aquarium.

The importance of oxygen in the reproduction of freshwater butterflyfish.

On many occasions these flying fish inhabit stagnant waters that are very poor in oxygen. Although they inhabit the surface area of ​​the water column, the presence of oxygen is not always guaranteed, especially for spawning.

Pantodon buchholzi


P. buchholzi has evolved to fight against this poor presence of oxygen by laying eggs in the form of floating eggs, which guarantees sufficient oxygenation for proper development. Some species of cichlids solve this same problem through forced aeration by fanning the surrounding water with their fins. The buchholzi eggs remain floating just in the area where the most oxygen is present.

Clutches can reach 200 eggs. They are transparent to try to camouflage them and go unnoticed by potential predators. After the first 10 hours they begin to darken and later hatch around 48 hours later. As soon as the larvae hatch, they begin to search for food consisting of tiny larvae of tiny insects.

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