Chaetodon lunula (raccoon butterfly) - photos show a
What's your favorite
butterflyfish? A "heni"?, Threadfin, golden, a double
saddle-back? At the top of my personal list are the two, yes
two raccoon butterflies, Chaetodon lunula
("Key-toe-don lew-new-lah"), and Chaetodon fasciatus
These B/F's (industry shorthand for
butterflyfishes) are hardy, disease resistant, ready eaters
to the point of being porky, and strikingly beautiful. As
marines go, they're moderately inexpensive and readily
Specimens that have been conscientiously
collected, held and transported are long-lived in captivity.
Ones that have not... will be easy for you to discern with
what's offered here.
Classification: Taxonomy, Relation
With Other Groups
The raccoons are just two of 89 species
in the giant genus Chaetodon, of the butterflyfish
family Chaetodontidae of ten genera and some 120 nominal
species. See Nelson for higher taxonomic affinities.
Chaetodon lunula, "the" raccoon
butterfly, is found widely throughout the tropical
Indo-Pacific, eastward even to Hawaii (my favorite source),
westward to the Indian Ocean but missing in the Red Sea.
Chaetodon fasciatus, the "Red Sea" raccoon butterfly
is so-named for its restricted distribution. Happily for the
world of marine aquarists, Red Sea livestock is becoming
much more available in terms of numbers to be had and
Both species bear black and white
crescent bands over the face and eyes raccoon-mask-like
imitating their terrestrial namesake. They're similarly
colored yellow, black and white on first glance, yet look
closer. The Red Sea species lacks the Indo-Pacific's caudal
peduncle (the area right before the tail fin) black spot and
oblique yellow stripes behind the head. Note also the
differences in the Red Sea's white masking (less), it's
bolder, more variegated body band markings, and gorgeous red
margining on the unpaired fins.
Raccoons can tip the scales at more than
nine inches, total length, and grow an inch or better in a
half year. Not the biggest B/Fs, but close. They need room
to swim and grow.
Selection: General to Specific
The following course of observation and
1) Timeliness: How long has the
dealer had the fish? I strongly suggest holding off
purchasing butterflies for a good week or two after arrival.
Shaky individuals will have straightened out by then, or
gone the route.
2) Feeding: Any marine fish of
considerable cost should have to pass the acid-test of
whether it is eating. No feeding, no sale.
3) Appearance: Off color, and any
reddening of the mouth or fin bases should disqualify a
prospective purchase. Most often due to mis-handling, such
specimens refuse food, rarely recuperating.
4) Size: On acquisition is
important. Small and large butterflies ship and adapt
poorly; avoid ones under 3 inches and over 5 if at all
possible. Intermediate size specimens acclimate well to
Collecting Your Own
Can be done if you just happen to be in
the area. These and all other butterflyfishes are captured
using a "fence net" arranged as a barrier, and hand nets
(and possibly poles) to drive intended specimens against it.
Raccoon B/Fs live in shallow regions of
coral reefs; with both ready holes to swim in/out and dive
into, and plenty of open space. Note that these species can
and do get pretty big (more than hand size), and don't
tolerate crowding; a small specimen requires a good fifteen
gallons itself, a larger individual a minimum of thirty.
Butterflyfishes as a whole do not
appreciate much in the way of nitrite or nitrates. A
successful approach to their keeping is to place them in
established (six months plus) aquariums that are adequately
equipped with filtration geared toward maintaining low
organic concentrations (e.g. fractionation, chemical
Steady and high specific gravity (1.025
for both species), and pH (ideally 8.3) are requisite.
Bottom line; these fishes need consistent high quality
A "dream" filter set-up might involve a
seperate "refugium" aquarium to circulate water to and from
your main display system. This other tank would have its own
lighting gear and be filled chock-a-block with thriving live
rock, a live sand arrangement to eliminate nitrates,
heating, protein skimmer... even provide some supplemental
Raccoon butterflies are most often seen
singly, periodically in pairs, only occasionally in groups.
Unless you purchase or capture them together, they are best
kept one to a tank. Likewise, other butterflyfish family
members can butt-heads should they be closely matched
size-wise or if the system is crowded. My suggestion is to
keep an inch or so difference in your new chaetodonts and
introduce the smallest first, with a few weeks span between
Following a two week quarantine (or at
least a brief freshwater dip), even coming from a reputable
dealer, a "mixing" or "dripping" of waters acclimation
procedure should be followed, placing the new specimen in
its new home under low illumination for a day. Do this when
you have time to observe carefully; the first minutes
to hour are critical in terms of determining whether or not
the raccoon will "take" or be accepted by its tankmates.
Watch your livestock.
I've heard of small Chaetodon lunula
kept in reef set-ups, but I don't advise it; raccoons will
pick at coral and sample other soft-bodied non-vertebrates
Raccoons are good community fishes for
fish-only types of systems. Other fish species leave them
alone, unless they're bite-size, and they are generally
"live and let live" in attitude with the possible exception
of members of their own kind and similar size and shaped
Differentiation/Growing Your Own:
Butterflyfishes are egg-scatterers,
releasing their gametes to the whims of surface currents
cued by moon and tides. Larval young develop through a
strange armored "tholichthys" stage as pelagic plankton,
settling down (hopefully) as miniature adults.
Per most chaetodonts, the raccoon species
are indistinguishable sexually. All specimens are wild
Frequency, Amount, Wastes
As mentioned previously both raccoon
species are enthusiastic eaters. Once trained on non-live
foods you will have to literally "beat them with a stick" to
get them to not feed. New arrivals may require live
offerings initially; brine shrimp, tubifex work well, as
does an opened fresh clam. In the wild raccoon B/Fs feed
primarily at night, so initially offering food toward the
evening is worth considering.
I have seen these fishes maintained on little more than
dry-prepared foodstuffs, but with consequent loss of color
and vitality. Do alternate meaty foods into their diets
(shrimp, clam, mussel, frozen insect larvae, etc.) on a
regular and frequent basis. B/Fs are browsers that become
"bored" and skinny when fed only once a day; feed often,
Disease: Infectious, Parasitic,
Nutritional, Genetic, Social
Except on being collected or exposed to
new livestock that has brought in "bugs" with it, these
fishes are historically "clean". If yours look punkish, are
refusing food, look first and foremost to diminished water
quality, and second to "bullying" by a tankmate...
Be cautious as to unnecessarily
"treating" these (and your other marine livestock) with
"medications". The dreaded saltwater ich (Cryptocaryon)
may be "cured" via standard copper treatment, but it is best
to avoid it entirely through quarantine and/or dipping.
The raccoon butterflyfishes are two of
the best of the family. As omnivorous feeders on sedentary
invertebrates and plankton, they easily adapt to aquarium
fare. For chaetodonts, they're parasite resistant... What's
more, both are beautiful and interesting behaviorally.
If you have an un-crowded, spacious
system, that is well-established and filtered, do consider
an aquatic raccoon.
Allen, Gerald R. 1979. Butterfly and
Angelfishes of the World.Vol. 2. Aquarium Systems, OH. 203
Burgess, Warren E. 1978. Butterflyfishes
of the World; A Monograph of the Family Chaetodontidae.
T.F.H. Publications, NJ.832 pp.
Burgess, Warren E. 1979. The raccoon
butterflyfish, Chaetodon lunula. TFH 8/79.
Campbell, Douglas 1980. Marines: Their
care and keeping. Butterflyfishes: Part one. FAMA 10/80.
Hoover, John 1995. Hawaii's
butterflyfishes, pt. 1. FAMA 11/95.
Hunziker, Ray 1992. The ten best
butterflies. TFH 6/92.
Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the
World. Wiley, NY. 600 pp.
Steene, Roger C. 1977. Butterfly and
Angelfishes of the World. Vol. 1 Australia. Aquarium
Systems, OH. 144 pp.
the permission of Robert (Bob) Fenner webmaster of WetWebMedia