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Related FAQs: Chelmon genus Butterflyfishes, Chelmon Butterflies 2, Chelmon Identification, Chelmon Behavior, Chelmon Compatibility, Chelmon Selection, Chelmon Systems, Chelmon Feeding, Chelmon Disease, Butterflyfish Identification, Butterflyfish Foods/Feeding/NutritionButterflyfish Compatibility, Butterflyfish Behavior, Butterflyfish Systems, Butterflyfish Selection, Butterflyfish Disease, Butterflyfish Reproduction,

Related Articles: Best/Worst Butterflyfishes

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

The Chelmon Butterflyfishes

The Genus Chelmon, Copper-Banded Butterflies and Not

 

Bob Fenner

Chelmon rostrata


Butterflyfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care
New eBook on Amazon: Available here
New Print Book on Create Space: Available here


by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Times were that it was a rare Copperband Butterfly that lived for long or at all in captivity; thankfully, those times are mostly past. Nowayears; with careful selection, placement and a bit of catering as to tankmates and feeding, most folks can keep Chelmon rostratus under captive conditions.

            Relating what constitutes a good specimen, selecting it, suitable compatible livestock and nutrition is the purpose of this article.

The Genus Itself: There are three species of Chelmon, and though the other two do make their way into the trade in the west, this is not often, and they are much more expensive; hailing out of Australia and Papua New Guinea. The “common” Copperband, Chelmon rostratus is collected for the trade from a few places; mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia; though more-costly specimens can be had from Australia at times.

Chelmon rostratus (Linnaeus 1758), the Copperband Butterflyfish or Beaked Coralfish. Too many die within a week or two of capture from trauma and starvation, dying "mysteriously" in the night. Due to better conditions in the age of reef keeping, some folks are able to salvage specimens, even hand feeding them. From the tropical western Pacific, Andaman Sea/India to southern Japan, south to Australia), to six inches overall length. Below; a nice adult specimen in Pulau Redang, Malaysia.

 The “Other” Chelmons:

            Usually offered at a couple hundred dollars plus each, and of medium to large size (four plus inches), C. marginalis and C. muelleri have proven on average to be less hardy, aquarium-adaptable than “the” Copperband, C. rostratus.   

Chelmon marginalis Richardson 1842, Margined Coralfish. Northern coast of Australia. To some seven inches total length. A sometimes available hardier choice than the common "Chelmon".

Chelmon muelleri (Klunzinger 1879), Muller's Coralfish. Northern Australia in coastal reefs. To seven inches total length. Feeds on a large mix of benthic invertebrates. 

No pic

Compatibility:

            Chelmons, like most all Butterflyfishes, are shy and retiring; never aggressive to other fishes, and this genus leaving stinging-celled life (e.g. corals, anemones…) alone; though they will consume any worm or crustacean that will fit in their prising jaws.

            Chaetodontids of all sorts are not so fortunate regarding more agonistic species beatings and harassment. Beware of stocking your Chelmon with the usual bully suspects (Triggers, large Basses and big Wrasses, Morays and such).

            As very easygoing species, it’s a good idea to introduce your Chelmon early on in your stocking plan; so that it settles in, gets the “lay of the land/tank” ahead of more aggressive feeders.

            And best to only stock one specimen to a tank; even if the system is huge; these species are found in groups when quite small, and pairs/twos at times in the wild; most are encountered solitary; and when another comes about, there is more often than not some chasing behavior that ensues. Unless you can be sure that you are buying an established pair, go with one to a system. 

Selection: Several Important Criteria

Age/Size: like the tale of Goldilocks, tres ursids, and average kinetic energy (heat) of porridges, you want to select for not too small, nor too large, but just about right size of specimens of Chelmon. For ease of understanding “total length” we’ll understand here to be from the tip of the mouth to the end of the tail fin. Specimens of 3-4 inches overall length are “in the zone” and ones smaller and much larger less desirable.

 

A just under three inch specimen of Chelmon rostrata at a Los Angeles marine wholesaler. Too small individuals rarely adapt to captive conditions, hiding, refusing foods, being too shy, weak from the rigors of starvation, metabolite poisoning and general stress of collection, holding and shipping to recover. Similarly too-large (great than 4 inch) ones get too badly beaten up in custody; and just don’t adjust to living in the small volumes which are our aquariums.

 

Feeding: A Fish That Eats Is (Generally) A Fish That Lives.           Is it? An all- time great “acid test” of whether to consider a purchase or no is that the animal is eating… foods that you can get and intend to use. Non-feeding should negate buying. ASK your dealer to feed the fish in your presence.

A further reason to make certain a fish is eating is to avoid ones that have been collected with the economic poison cyanide. Most exposed fishes will refuse food, and ones that do take it in, almost always perish shortly thereafter, the lining of their gut having been damaged.

Obvious Damage: Look at the body closely for missing or raised scales. A few blems here and split fins won’t disqualify a purchase for me; but any bleeding, reddish areas on the body or fin spine origins will. Look especially at the “beak”; the terminus of the animals’ mouth. This is way too often damaged in collection and shipping… by keeping the specimen in too small a bag and NOT laying the bags on their sides; causing the fishes to lie sideways… and rest in the dark.

Are the eyes clear; the fish “bright”; that is, aware of your presence, the other animals moving near it? It should be.

Country Source: Though most often collected and shipped out of Indonesia and the Philippines, the more expensive alternate sources of Australia and Singapore are far hardier.

 

System: “It’s the Environment Dummy”:

            An important element in keeping Chelmon species; indeed all butterflyfishes in captivity; is beyond providing optimized and stable conditions, allowing the system itself to cure. To be blunt, these fishes live on and require “reef quality” settings; with copious amounts of healthy live rock. Allowing your set-up to age a few months ahead of their introduction is requisite.

            Adequate space is also important. Butterflies fare poorly in small volumes. I would not stock even one specimen in under a hundred gallons; as they just do not adapt well to not being able to swim about, having a sense of being able to escape out of view. On this last; a note re décor; making free-standing bommies, arches, overhangs and caves is vastly preferable to a standing wall of rock.

           

Foods/Feeding:

            Preferred foods span a very large selection of items meaty whole and prepared. With practice most specimens will learn to take frozen-defrosted; though you may have to mix these initially in with live (Tubifex, Brine Shrimp, Glassworms…) increasing the percentage of non-live over times. As above; prepared blended foods of commercial or DIY make can make up the bulk of feed for these Butterflies in time. More frequent, smaller meals are preferred; two, three times daily. A favored trick in urging Chelmon to feed is the use of an opened fresh mussel or clam placed on the bottom.

 

Disease/Health:

            Unfortunately, the sore-spot in keeping Chaetodontids; they are proverbial poster children for biological and environmental diseases. Amongst most all fish groups, Butterflyfishes are the first to show signs of infection, parasitism and when conditions are drifting… like aquatic versions of canaries in mining caves; look first to your BF/s for signs of impending problems.

            As always it is imminently important to exercise careful observation of your livestock; for behavioral and markings changes. Problems that are caught very early can often be readily remedied; ones that go too far are almost impossible to correct.

            Rather than copper, formalin et al. conventional medications, I strongly advise that you look into quinine compound use (Quinine Sulfate, Chloroquine Phosphate) should your system be struck with a Protozoan concern.

            Prevention of problems is best for sure; with careful selection of stock, isolation/quarantine for a few days to rest the specimen/s up, allow your observation; and timely dips/baths, acclimation to your main/display systems. Assuredly healthy BF specimens I would skip quarantine on actually; as this more often than not is not as valuable as expediting new purchases with a simple pH adjusted freshwater dip/bath to knock off external issues.

Reproduction: Not Yet

            As far as I’m aware, there are no ways to sex Chelmon externally; nor have there been reports of their captive spawning and rearing. Butterflyfishes are considered to be pair spawners; perhaps monogamous; with seasonal matings in later Winter and Spring; egg-bulging females being nudged and both parties ascending toward the surface, releasing gametes into the water column and providing no parental care.

 

Cloze:

            Chelmons are not impossible to keep, but do strictly require sincere effort on our parts in selecting viable specimens, providing them with a suitable environment and assuring they’re receiving adequate nutrition. Can you do this? Of a certainty, yes; just do take your time. As the saying goes; “little happens fast that’s good in being an aquarist”.


Chelmon marginalis Richardson 1842, Margined Coralfish. Northern coast of Australia. To some seven inches total length. A sometimes available hardier choice than the common "Chelmon".

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.
Chelmon muelleri (Klunzinger 1879), Muller's Coralfish. Northern Australia in coastal reefs. To seven inches total length. Feeds on a large mix of benthic invertebrates.   

Chelmon rostratus  (Linnaeus 1758), the Copperband Butterflyfish or Beaked Coralfish. Most die within a week or two of capture from trauma and starvation, dying "mysteriously" in the night. Due to better conditions in the age of reef keeping, some folks are able to salvage specimens, even hand feeding them. From the tropical western Pacific, to six inches overall length.


Chelmon muelleri (Klunzinger 1879) Muller's Coralfish. From the upper/northern coast of Australia. To seven inches overall. More cosmopolitan feeder than others of its genus.

Do you want to film in the land down under?


Butterflyfishes for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care
New eBook on Amazon: Available here
New Print Book on Create Space: Available here


by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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