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Black Vagabond Butterfly

Scientific Name: Chaetodon decussatus
Family: Chaetodontidae

About the Black Vagabond Butterfly

Species Type: Saltwater Fish
Category: Butterflyfish

Care Level: Moderate. Healthy specimens are frequently available for purchase, but stress in shipping does sometimes occur. Will accept dried foods after settling in, but frozen foods or algae grazing sheets may be required initially. After proper quarantine and acclimation to the display, this fish is generally resistant to disease. An overall good choice for the new saltwater hobbyist.
Origin: Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka. Beware, a very similar species (Chaetodon vagabundus) is available from the Coastal Africa area. Another similar species (Chaetodon auriga) is also available, commonly sold as the Threadfin or Auriga Butterly, which has an overlapping distribution range. Of these 3 species, the C. vagabundus is nearly impossible to maintain in an aquarium, while C. decussatus and C. auriga are very sturdy fish that are great for a new marine hobbyist. A detailed description is given below to help aid in making a wise purchase.
Compatibility/Temperament: Butterflyfish as a whole should not be kept in a reef environments, since they will feed on anemones and coral polyps. Although graceful in appearance, Butterflyfish are very capable of defending themselves in an aquarium, and are very similar in behavior to Angelfish and Tangs, although they are not as territorial towards newly added fish. Most Butterflyfish can be kept in pairs, provided both are introduced into the aquarium at the same time. Mixing multiple Butterflyfish into the same aquarium is also possible, provided you have sufficient space and pay careful attention to not add species of near identical color patterns. In fact, it would be best to add Butterflyfish of different Genus. One such example would be to keep the species profiled here, the Black Vegabond Butterfly, in the same aquarium with a Copperband Butterfly. Such an issue would rarely present compatibility concerns.


Butterflyfish, even those which are deemed "easy" to care for, should only be introduced into a mature aquarium with sufficient live rock and protein skimming to maintain Nitrates near zero. In such an environment they will prove to be sturdy fish. After established Butterflyfish are not shy, and will generally be seen grazing on live rock during the day hours. They may also be the first fish to your feeding clip and learn to take foods out of your hand. They behavior in the home aquarium is very surprising to anyone who expects that they are purchasing a shy, reclusive fish.

To distinguish between C. decussatus, C. vagabundus, and C. auriga you must pay close attention to the rear coloration of the fish. The C. auriga is easiest to identify, as the caudal fin is solid yellow. There is not a black stripe in the caudal fin of C. auriga.

Separating C. decussatus from C. vagabundus at first seems very difficult, but is quite obvious if you know what to look for. When identifying these two fish, you must ignore caudal fin colors. Instead focus on the rear of the body, nearest the caudal fin. In C. decassatus, the Black Vagabond Butterfly, this part of the body is a solid black color. In C. vagabundus the same portion of the body is yellow, with a solid black stripe. If you are looking at a fish sold as a "Vagabond Butterfly" and you can distinguish a black stripe running through a yellow patch of body, then you are looking at C. vagabundus and it will very likely die a quick death in your aquarium. If you are looking for a sturdy fish which is easy to care for, then the same portion of the body will be solid black, and you have found C. decussatus.

I suggest looking closely at the pictures of all 3 species described here so that you are confident in your purchase.

Black Vagabond Butterfly Diet

Feed a diet rich in vegetable matter including frozen herbivore foods, dried seaweed, or live macro algae. Freeze dried algae sheets should be offered daily. They accept dried and frozen foods, and several feedings per day are suggested. An ample supply of live rock to allow for grazing is almost mandatory for this genus. They struggle in tanks without a mature live rock and sand bed, but are extremely sturdy in mature aquarium environments with live rock.


Grows to 9'' in size, making it an excellent long term choice for many home aquariums.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

125 gallons

Ideal water parameters for Black Vagabond Butterfly

Marine fish are highly sensitive animals with very specific care requirements. Most all saltwater species will require similar water conditions, designed to replicate that of natural seawater. Ammonia and nitrite levels should absolute zero, temperature at 76F to 80F, and salinity at 1.024 to 1.026. Although some fish are tolerant of lower levels of Nitrate, the goal in every aquariums should be to keep Nitrate as close to zero as possible, and certainly under 20ppm. Finally, maintaining a stable pH of 8.0 to 8.4 is desired. Achieving this is made easier by monitoring alkalinity, which should be kept at 8-12 DKH, and calcium, which is targeted at 400 to 460ppm.

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Pasfur, wake49
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