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With normalization of international relations in and around the Middle east, improvement of transport, and general "waking-up" to the realization of its potential, the aquaristic trade is seeing more collection from the Red Sea than ever before. This is a real boon for the hobbyist for it has done what free-market pressures do; increase availability and decrease costs. Many varieties of livestock, a great deal of which is endemic (only found there), are finally to be had, and for less than a mortgage payment.
Where and what is this magical place? The Red Sea is a narrow (20-190 miles) body of seawater extending and forking up from the Indian ocean. It is about 1,200 miles length largely between Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti) and Arabia (Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen), forming the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez to the north. Intact coral reefs run almost unbroken along the shallows of it's coast.
Due to high and dry weather, there is some 1,600 inches of evaporation a year, resulting in an elevated consistent water density... Due to isolation and concurrent lack of genetic recruitment, this area has the second (behind Hawaii) highest degree of endemism (some 17-32 percent of species of inshore fishes are found only there).
The underwater life is bolder and more colorful than anywhere else on the planet; one colorful explanation states that when the angels were going about painting the world, they took un poco siesta at the site and accidentally spilled all the leftover paints in the Red Sea... The fish and corals and most everything else is brighter and sturdier coming from here.
The Butterflyfish family Chaetodontidae are a very important part of the marine aquarium world. Several species are 'stock' items (the Longnoses, Raccoon, Threadfin, Heniochus, among others) due to their overall beauty, adaptability, availability, and hardiness against disease.
However, there are many varieties of chaetodonts that are near impossible to keep in captivity. Some are known to only eat live coral polyps, others just don't take captive handling and/or life in a small artificial environment.
Of the 'good' B/Fs (industry shorthand for the family of butterflies) there are more than a handful that can be gotten from the Red Sea. The following is my tally of the best, medium and worst varieties; my opinions from handling thousands of specimens, traveling and writing in the interest of aquaristics for going on thirty years.
The Best Butterflyfishes From the Red Sea:
Medium Choices: This category is not altogether doomed in captivity, but in my opinion is far and away less suitable for the home aquarist; most specimens live less than a month, very few more than three.
Butterflies From the Red Sea You Want To Avoid: these species do poorly, the vast majority rarely living more than a month. For those who enjoy a challenge I say; study up before you buy.
These are impossible aquarium species, most specimens refuse all food in captivity. They are all, regrettably, commonly imported and offered for sale.
Butterflyfishes offered from countries bordering the Red Sea are typically of medium to large proportions.
You will want and need to do more research than what is offered here to determine space requirements for these fishes. Some grow several inches to a foot in length; that's a big butterfly. A good rule of thumb is to purchase individuals no less than a third, nor greater than half their maximum size. Overall, three to five inch individuals adapt best to aquarium conditions.
Red Sea butterflies need large (fifty plus gallon) systems with oversized filtration and circulation. A good rule of thumb is to provide each with at least twenty gallons of space.
A very pertinent note regarding Red Sea livestock and specific gravity. Seawater here is saltier, up to some 10% (about 4.2% percent of total) more than the rest of the worlds oceans. Your system should be too. Many folks keep their spg artificially low (1.018-1.023) to increase carrying capacity, lower the incidence of disease, save money on salt mix... don't do it with these fishes! A good "low" for Red Sea stock is 1.025-1.027.
Most species (with the exception of the two Heniochus) are best kept as individuals unless the system is huge or the specimens are observed associating as pairs at the dealers. Generally these fishes are only aggressive towards members of their own, or similar appearing species.
All Butterflyfishes are best placed in aged (months) systems, initially with subdued lighting. Keep an eye out that newcomers are not being bullied.
Most everything leaves these Butterflyfishes alone though they are eaten by larger predatory fishes in the wild and may be in aquariums.
Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes
The species listed as "good" are ready eaters of all forms of prepared and frozen aquatic foods. New specimens may have to be trained onto non-living items by first feeding live (e.g. brine shrimp, worms).
Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social
Quite susceptible to the scourges of the reef, Cryptocaryon and Amyloodinium. Routine dipping (freshwater with or without, copper, formaldehyde) and quarantine are encouraged over copper treatments. Butterflyfishes are sometimes sensitive to chemical therapeutics, therefore the emphasis on dips/baths and quarantine.
Some of the best fishes come from the Red Sea, even if their geographic distribution extends to elsewhere; what's more, many of the fishes there are found only there, including some real beauties. Happily for us, other countries and collecting companies are cashing in and shipping more Red Sea livestock and for much better prices than ever before.
The several Butterflyfishes that come from the area suffer from the general conditions of their family: some are far more suitable for aquarium keeping than others. You can help yourself and the environment by casting your votes/dollars by being a conscientious marine aquarist; providing a suitable environment, proper husbandry, and selection of appropriate species.
Mayland, Hans J, trans. by A.K. Hagenlocher, 1972. A portrait of two fishes (C. larvatus & semilarvatus). Marine Aquarist 3(5):72.
Mayland, Hans J., trans. by U. Erich Friese. 1976. Some Red Sea fishes. Marine Aquarist 7:5, 76.
Rashad, Byron K. 1996. Red Sea Fish for the reef aquarium; Jewels of the desert sea. FAMA 5/96.
Steene, Roger C., 1985. Butterfly & Angelfishes of the World, Vol. 1 Australia. Mergus Publ., Germany.