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Vagabond Butterfly

Scientific Name: Chaetodon vagabundus
Family: Chaetodontidae

About the Vagabond Butterfly

Species Type: Saltwater Fish
Category: Butterflyfish

Care Level: Very Difficult. Healthy specimens are nearly impossible to find. Ships and acclimates poorly to captivity. Often refuses all foods and starves to death quickly. May have special dietary requirements that can not be met in captivity. Otherwise healthy specimens often die overnight, for no apparent reason. Not recommended for any home aquarium, best left in the ocean.
Origin: Coastal Africa. Beware, two very similar species, C. decussatus and C. auriga are available in the hobby. 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.


Please refer to the profile for C. decussatus, the Black Vagabond Buttefly, for a description of behavior in the home aquarium. The species being described here, C. vagabundus, has yet to survive in a home aquarium environment to have its behavior profiled accurately.

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.

Vagabond Butterfly Diet

Feeds exclusively on anemones, coral polyps, and amphipods. Duplicating the diet of this species in a home aquarium has yet to be achieved, and you can be confident your specimen will starve to death. It is highly recommended that you purchase C. decussatus or C. auriga as an alternative to c. vagabundus.


Grows to 11''.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

125 gallons

Ideal water parameters for 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
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