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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.
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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”.