Sunburst Butterfly



Sunburst Butterfly, Chaetodon kleinii

  • Common Name: Sunburst Butterfly
  • Latin Name: Chaetodon kleinii
  • Distribution: The Sunburst Butterfly is naturally found in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Red Sea, the Maldives, and the Andaman Sea. It primarily inhabits coral reefs and lagoons with rich coral growth and abundant hiding places.
  • Max Size: The Sunburst Butterfly can reach a maximum size of about 6 inches (15 cm) in length.
  • Temperature Range: The recommended temperature range for the Sunburst Butterfly is between 76°F and 82°F (24°C – 28°C).
  • pH Range: The ideal pH range for this species is between 8.1 and 8.4.
  • KH Range: The recommended carbonate hardness (KH) range is between 8 and 12 dKH.
  • Care Level: These fish requires intermediate to advanced care due to its specific dietary needs and sensitivity to water conditions.
  • Lighting Preference: This species thrives under moderate to high lighting conditions, simulating the bright and vibrant reef environment it naturally inhabits.
  • Preferred Food: Sunburst Butterflies are primarily carnivorous and feed on a varied diet consisting of small crustaceans, worms, and other meaty foods. Offering a combination of frozen and live foods is recommended to meet their nutritional requirements.
  • Behaviour: Sunburst Butterflyfish are generally peaceful but can be territorial, especially towards members of their own species or similar-looking fish. They are active swimmers, constantly exploring their surroundings and searching for food.
  • Suitable for Reef Tanks: While the Sunburst Butterflies are compatible with reef tanks. They may nip at corals, especially soft and stony corals. Therefore, caution should be exercised when introducing them to a reef tank, and it is advisable to provide ample hiding places and feeding opportunities to deter coral nipping behaviour.
  • Interesting Facts:
  • Like other butterflyfish species, Sunburst Butterfly have a small mouth adapted for picking and feeding on small invertebrates found in the reef environment.
  • These fish are typically found in pairs or small groups, and they rely on the protection provided by the coral reefs for safety.
  • The Sunburst Butterflyfish is known to undergo colour changes when stressed or threatened, displaying a darker and more subdued appearance.

The Sunburst Butterfly, scientifically known as Chaetodon kleinii, is a stunning and colourful species. It reaches a maximum size of about 8 inches (20 cm). The body is laterally compressed and oval-shaped, with a prominent snout and small, rounded fins. The base colouration is yellow, with a vibrant burst of orange-red colour on the upper half of the body. The dorsal and anal fins are elongated and adorned with intricate patterns of dark lines and spots, resembling the rays of a sunburst.

Natural Habitat:

The Sunburst Butterfly is commonly found in the warm tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region. It inhabits coral reefs, lagoons, and outer reef slopes. Its natural habitat is characterized by an abundance of coral formations, including hard and soft corals, as well as a diverse range of marine plants. These fish seek shelter among the corals and rely on them for protection, foraging, and reproduction.

Keeping Sunburst Butterfly Healthy:

The Sunburst Butterfly requires diligent care to ensure its health and well-being. It has a moderate care level and can be moderately difficult to keep. Maintaining stable water parameters is crucial, with a temperature range of 75°F to 82°F (24°C to 28°C) and a pH range of 8.1 to 8.4. Adequate filtration, regular water changes, and a well-established aquarium with live rock are essential for their success.

Special Requirements and Feeding:

Sunburst Butterfly fish have specialized dietary needs. They primarily feed on a variety of small invertebrates and zooplankton found in the reef ecosystem. Offering a varied diet consisting of high-quality marine-based foods such as frozen or live brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, and quality marine flakes is recommended. It is important to provide multiple feedings per day to ensure they receive proper nutrition.

How Many Should I Keep?

It is best to keep Sunburst Butterfly fish singly or in mated pairs due to their territorial nature. They can become aggressive towards conspecifics and other butterflyfish if kept in small tanks. Providing ample swimming space, hiding spots, and territories within the aquarium will help minimize aggression and stress.

Lighting Preference:

Sunburst Butterfly fish thrive under moderate to high lighting conditions. Adequate lighting enhances their vibrant colours and showcases their intricate patterns.

Suitable Tank Mates:

Sunburst Butterflies are generally peaceful but may exhibit territorial behaviour towards similar species. They can coexist with other peaceful reef fish, such as tangs, angelfish, and smaller wrasses. Avoid keeping them with aggressive or highly territorial species that may intimidate or harass them.

Reproduction in the Wild:

In the wild, Sunburst Butterflies engage in courtship rituals before spawning. Pairs perform intricate swimming displays, fin movements, and colour changes to attract mates. Spawning typically occurs near the reef, where the female releases her eggs and the male fertilizes them externally. The eggs then float in the water column until they hatch into larvae, which undergo a pelagic stage before settling on the reef as juveniles.

Breeding Chaetodon kleinii:

Breeding Sunburst Butterfly fish, Chaetodon kleinii, in captivity can be a complex and challenging task. Successful breeding requires careful attention to their specific needs and the replication of natural spawning conditions. Here are some additional details on breeding Sunburst Butterflyfish in captivity:

  1. Setting Up a Breeding Tank:

To encourage spawning, it is recommended to set up a separate breeding tank that closely resembles the natural reef environment. The tank should have appropriate lighting, live rock for shelter and egg attachment, and a sandy substrate for the female to lay eggs.

  1. Pairing and Courtship:

Introduce a well-conditioned male and female into the breeding tank. It is crucial to ensure that they are compatible and exhibit natural courtship behaviours. During courtship, the male will display vibrant colours, elaborate fin movements, and engage in intricate swimming displays to attract the female.

  1. Spawning and Egg Care:

The Sunburst Butterfly typically spawns in the early morning. The female releases her eggs into the water column, and the male fertilizes them externally. It is essential to closely monitor the eggs and ensure suitable water conditions to promote their development.

  1. Rearing Larvae:

After hatching, the larvae are planktonic and require specific care. They need a well-established culture of copepods and rotifers as their primary food source. The larvae should be transferred to a specialized rearing tank equipped with appropriate filtration and lighting to support their growth and development.

  1. Feeding and Growth:

As the larvae grow, their diet transitions to larger copepods, enriched Artemia nauplii, and other small live foods. Providing a varied and nutrient-rich diet is crucial for their healthy growth. Maintaining optimal water quality, including temperature and salinity, is essential for their overall well-being.

  1. Challenges and Considerations:

Breeding Sunburst Butterflyfish in captivity is a complex process and may not always result in success. Factors such as compatibility issues between the pair, inadequate diet, suboptimal water conditions, and the delicate nature of the larvae can pose challenges. Patience, experience, and attention to detail are key in increasing the chances of successful breeding.

Sexual Dimorphism:

There is minimal sexual dimorphism in Sunburst Butterfly fish. Males and females exhibit similar colouration and markings, making it difficult to visually differentiate between the sexes.


The Sunburst Butterflyfish, Chaetodon kleinii, is naturally distributed across the Indo-Pacific region. It can be found in various locations, including the Red Sea, East Africa, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. While captive-bred specimens may be available, the original wild fish primarily originate from these areas.


The Sunburst Butterflyfish, scientifically known as Chaetodon kleinii, is a captivating and colourful species that adds a vibrant touch to any marine aquarium. With its distinctive yellow body, orange-red burst of colour, and intricate patterns, it is a true visual delight. While it requires moderate care and specific dietary considerations, providing stable water parameters, a balanced diet, and suitable tank mates can contribute to its overall well-being. Although breeding in captivity is challenging, observing their natural behaviours, and appreciating their beauty make Sunburst Butterflyfish a sought-after addition to reef aquariums.


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