The Sunburst Butterflyfish, Chaetodon kleinii is also known as the Black-lipped Butterflyfish, White Spotted Butterflyfish, Orange Butterflyfish and Klein’s Butterflyfish. They are probably the most common Butterflyfish in Tanzanian waters.
The body of the Sunburst butterflyfish is oval and a yellow brown colour that seems to vary slightly from specimen to specimen. Older specimens are as a rule darker than younger specimens. There is a pronounced darker area just behind the gills on most adults. Depending on the angle of view, there is a grid pattern of blue or white dots across the body. The lips are black and the facial area is whitish. A black bar runs through the eye.
There is a pronounced thin black line on the rear of the dorsal and anal fins bordered by a thicker white line. They have a pointed snout with sharp, narrow teeth and grow to between 8-12 cm in length. It is impossible to sex them from their looks.
IN THE WILD
Adult Sunburst Butterflyfish are more often than not seen in pairs the wild and as with all butterflyfish are hard to approach closely. Occasionally they are seen singly and it is seldom that more than two adults are seen together. Although they swim in the open they always have a hole nearby to pop into and are quick to do so. If they think you are following them they hide. The juveniles are however often seen in small groups as can be seen in the image below.
If one watches them feeding, they often feed in small groups with other species of butterflyfish. In Tanzania when they move into the territory, of for example the jeweled damsel fish, Plectroglyphidodon dickii, which is highly territorial and chases any small fish that comes into its territory, the damsel will chase one of the shoal out the area. The others continue feeding in the damsels territory. This grouping together seems to give an advantage in this fashion.
Sunburst butterflyfish are found from from the Transkei area in South Africa, northwards up the African coast to the Red Sea and across the Indo Pacific area up to Japan in the north to the south of Australia. They are also found in the Galapagos Islands.
Sunburst butterflyfish are capable of handling slightly lower temperatures than most other butterflyfish allowing them to inhabit some areas that other butterflyfish are not comfortable in. They are found across a range of environments from coral reefs, rubble covered bottoms to rocky coastlines down in the Transkei in South Africa. They are occasionally seen in shallow waters but more often than not they are in the 12 to 22 meter range
Sunburst Butterflyfish are omnivores and feed mainly on soft coral polyps, microalgae and plankton. They browse the reef sides and tops and often form groups with other species of butterflyfish.
Sunset butterflyfish form monogamous pairs and keep the same mates although they will find a new mate if one dies. The female swells with eggs and spawning takes place by scattering into the water table with the male fertilizing the eggs.
Spawning is thought to take place in relation to the lunar cycles but this is not certain. The eggs are spherical and buoyant and it is thought they hatch in 28 to 30 hours. Once the eggs hatch a bony plate forms over the head area and the larvae called tholichthys, are pelagic for quite some time. They slowly develop into juveniles. This phase makes it extremely difficult to breed them in aquariums. However in 2015 an aquarist managed to raise some from captive laid eggs albeit with a very low survival rate.
Because of their ability to survive in slightly greater temperature ranges, as well as having a more varied diet than other butterfly fishes, this makes the Sunburst butterflyfish a very easy fish to keep in an aquarium. It is colorful and probably an ideal fish for beginners.
They are not reef safe and will nip on some soft corals. As a bonus however they do eat glass anemones (Aiptasia). If they are being kept with other butterflyfish they should ideally be introduced to a tank simultaneously. They will readily accept most prepared foods. A tank should include hiding places and overhangs and should be fairly large as they enjoy swimming in the open. Well developed algal growth in the tank will take the pressure off feeding them initially.
SUNBURST BUTTERFLYFISH CLASSIFICATION
Species:C. (L.) kleinii
Allen, Gerald R. 1979. Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World. Vol. 2. Aquarium Systems, OH. 203 pp.
Burgess, Warren E. 1978. Butterflyfishes of the World; A Monograph of the Family Chaetodontidae. T.F.H. Publications, NJ.832 pp.
The Reef Guide: Southern Africa’s East and South Coasts
Dennis King and Valda Fraser
The butterflyfishes: success on the coral reef
edited by Philip J. Motta