Among the most bright, colourful and conspicuous creatures from the Red Sea are the butterflyfishes from the family of Chaetodontidae. The name alludes to an ancient Greek word, meaning ‘bristle teeth’. Their bodies conjure up visions of the discs, thrown by field athletes in training or at contests. They have a ‘layer’ of small scales and a distinguished protractile or protrusible snout. Their tail is rounded and has the shape of an eyelash fan brush.


Butterflyfishes are hard core diurnal, meaning very active during the day. After sunset they enjoy the absence of rays, resting among coral formations. Some species from this family are endemic. It means they are spotted only in their peculiar Red Sea habitat and nowhere else.


Butterflies are amazing contributors to a fascinating colour spectrum. Their colours and patterns serve more than one purpose. It helps them to mislead predators. The ‘mishmash’ of decorative blotches, spots, stripes and bands make them look like either shapeless, two-headed or even ‘distorted’. A butterfly hardly changes colour with transforming from juvenile to adult. It can easily be recognized by colour pattern only.


Butterflyfishes aren’t too fussy in the gastronomic department. They eat polyps, algae, tiny invertebrates and fish eggs. Territorial butterflyfish on a coral diet are called corallivores. In terms of socializing, we see butterflies circulating alone, in pairs, in small groups or in schools, 

Family Members


Crown Butterflyfish

Size up to 14 cm (0,46ft). Depth up to 30m (98,4ft)

The diurnal crown butterflyfish or redback butterflyfish with its compressed body lives in pairs or in small groups near reef flats, bays, lagoons and seaward reefs. It has black and white chevrons and a very distinctive firebrick red band over the caudal fin; yet its key identification is the reddish-yellow stripe covering the eye.


Generally speaking, a rich presence of the crown butterflyfish signals encouraging hard coral coverage on the seabed. When not in abundance, it may indicate troubled coral. It feeds on corals, crustaceans and algae.


Orangehead Butterflyfish

Size up to 12cm (0,39ft). Depth up to 12m (39,3 ft)

The diurnal orangehead butterflyfish  is a familiar feature in the comfort zone of sheltered areas near tabletop corals and staghorn plates. It’s a hardcore corallivore, and extremely selective at the same time, nibbling on acropora coral polyps only. It does so during the day in formations of two. It inhabits regions with a coralline abundance.


The orange-faced butterflyfish has an odd shaped, compressed and square-like profile with an intriguing powder blue to aquamarine and cyan blue palette, intercepted by fine light yellowish-white lines.


Lined Butterflyfish

Size up to 30cm (0,90ft). Depth up to 170m (560 ft)

The diurnal lined member of the Chaetodontidae dynasty is timid and rare. It’s colouration concentrates on mainly white, garnished with thin black vertical bars. The eyes are masked by a black ‘ sash’.  The tail and the fins on the tall and compressed body flirt with yellow.


From a behavioral point of view, it is either solitary or seen in pairs. It has a healthy taste for coral polyps, tiny anamones and small invertebrates and also algae, exploring coral-rich environment.

Red Sea Bannerfish

Size up to 20cm (0,65ft). Depth up to 50m (164ft)

Its square and compressed body has been typified as pale yellow, fading into white tones, adorned with vertical/diagonal black bands. Its dorsal fin is equipped with a firm filament, or more like with a long ray. The territorial Red Sea bannerfish’s menu consists of zooplanktonic and benthic invertebrates. Diurnal as it is, it finds habitat in reef flats, coralline bottoms, sheltered seaward reefs and lagoons. It is territorial and prefers living as couples.


Red Sea Raccoon Butterflyfish

Size up to 22cm (0,72ft). Depth up to 25m (82 ft)

The Red Sea raccoon butterflyfish is also known as the diagonal butterflyfish and is endemic to the Red Sea. It operates in pairs or small company.


The raccoon butterflyfish has an oval compressed body. It’s primarily yellow, adorned with eleven oblique, black and diagonal stripes. They are simply unmistakable. It has a frontal black mask, conjuring up visions of a raccoon, marked by a white band.


The raccoon butterflyfish hoovers over corals which it feeds on in the shallow habitats of reef flats, lagoons and bays. The raccoon would have been a corallivore had it not been for its appetite for algae, zooplankton, polyps and different kinds of invertebrates. 


Other Family Members

Arabian Butterflyfish

Black-backed Butterflyfish

Diagonal Butterflyfish

Exquisite Butterflyfish

Masked Butterflyfish

Painted butterflyfish

Threadfin Butterflyfish