Chaetodon Vagabundus – The Vagabond Butterflyfish

Chaetodon vagabundus

Last updated on June 26th, 2022 at 04:19 am

A beautiful and unique butterflyfish, Chaetodon vagabundus (also known as the Vagabond Butterflyfish) gets its name from the erratic swimming pattern that it exhibits at times. Though relatively small, this species can be found in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but only in shallow waters that are at least 30 feet deep.

You may be familiar with Chaetodon trifascialis, the chevron butterflyfish, or Chaetodon lunula, the Raccoon Butterflyfish; these are members of the Chaetodon family called Chaetodontidae. But you’ve probably never heard of Chaetodon vagabundus, or the Vagabond Butterflyfish, which was first described in 1855 by Pieter Bleeker.

A fish that requires an aquarium of at least 125 gallons and plenty of live rock, Chaetodon vagabundus (Vagabond butterflyfish) will eat meaty foods and algae wafers, as well as occasionally supplement its diet with coral polyps or other invertebrates. Read on to learn more about how to care for the Vagabond butterflyfish and what makes it unique!

Origin and descriptions

Chaetodon vagabundus

Chaetodon vagabundus is a butterflyfish native to the reefs of the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. They can be found in pairs or small groups. Females are typically larger than males. They live mainly on coral, but they may also feed on sponges, plankton, and benthic algae depending on location.

Like other butterflyfishes, Chaetodon vagabundus use their pectoral fins to create suction as they walk over soft substrates like corals, which helps them secure a foothold among coralline algae while grazing.

Chaetodon vagabundus is a species of butterflyfish found on coral reefs in tropical waters. It is an omnivore and its diet includes algae, zooplankton, benthic invertebrates, and fish. Chaetodon vagabundus is one of many species commonly known as butterflyfish.

Divers should be cautious when approaching Chaetodon vagabundus, as butterflyfishes have venomous dorsal, anal, and pelvic spines used for protection from predators. Once embedded in the skin, these spines cause intense pain that gradually fades over time if left untreated.

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Species profile

Chaetodon vagabundus

Chaetodon vagabundus is a very common butterflyfish in the Indo-Pacific area. It occurs in sizes ranging from 10 cm to 23 cm (9.1 inches) and is found at shallow reef flats and outer reef slopes to depths of 100 meters or more. They are usually seen singly, but sometimes several individuals can be observed together.

It feeds on filamentous algae and microphytes when young; adults feed mainly on tunicates, bryozoans, sponges, small crustaceans, and marine algae.

They breed frequently at most locations where suitable habitat exists throughout their range. Juveniles are cryptic miniature versions of adults with diagonal black bars on their body and tail as well as elongated dorsal finlets extending up onto their tail fin.


Chaetodon vagabundus is found in tropical marine and brackish waters of Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They live in protected inshore areas of outer reef slopes. Juveniles are also known to inhabit mangrove estuaries. These fish can live within coral, rubble, seagrass, and sandy areas at depths of 3m (10ft) and greater.

This species exhibits a slight preference for vegetated over non-vegetated areas. The water temperature these animals prefer seems to be rather narrow ranging from 72 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (22 – 25 degrees Celsius). If these particular variables fall outside of these ranges, captive conditions seem less than optimal.

Chaetodon vagabundus size

Chaetodon vagabundus are medium-sized butterflyfish that reach up to 9.1 inches long (23 cm) with good care when kept in captivity.

Chaetodon vagabundus tank size and conditions

125 gallons or larger tank with a sandy bottom and plenty of hiding places are best.  It will feel more at home in a well-established aquarium that contains live rock and corals (both natural and fake). It’s also recommended to have some type of marine algae available for grazing on. If you can get live seagrass, it’ll appreciate that too.

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A protein skimmer is an absolute must for keeping clean water, as are powerheads and other water movement devices. The butterflyfish has been known to swim in pairs but tends to be fairly reclusive by nature. It should not be housed with aggressive fish like certain damsels and gobies nor reef dwellers like angels. The chaetodons can stay together in groups of two or three, but if you want them to school together then add six or more specimens into your tank setup.

Chaetodon vagabundus tank mates

As with most butterflyfishes, Chaetodon vagabundus is best kept in a species-only tank; It may be aggressive toward its own kind or to other butterflyfishes. However, it can be kept with most other non-aggressive fishes that aren’t overly large.

Some of the best tank mates are similar-looking species, such as other butterflyfishes, damselfishes, and gobies. It’s also a good idea to add some bottom-dwelling invertebrates like starfish or sea urchins, which will provide food and give your fish something to watch while remaining out of reach.


Chaetodon vagabundus

Chaetodon vagabundus are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning that when small, they are female, but as they grow larger, they become male. This is known as sequential hermaphroditism and means that you can have a mixed-sex tank of Chaetodon vagabondus.

If you want to be able to tell males from females at a glance, give them plenty of places to hide and ensure you have one or two more females than males in your group. Larger males will be much bolder and brighter than their female counterparts, so it’s easy to identify them once they’ve grown large enough. Once you’ve identified who is male and who is female, then you can attempt breeding.

Are Chaetodon vagabundus aggressive or peaceful?

While Chaetodon vagabundus is generally a peace-loving fish, it is important to remember that all butterflyfish has a potential for aggression. They are best kept in a group of one male and at least three females, or as a harem with males and many females.

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Chaetodon vagabundus care

Chaetodon vagabundus

Chaetodon vagabundus is a popular aquarium fish and their care is not too demanding. They do best in well-established tanks with plenty of live rock for grazing. Although they don’t need as much light as some butterflyfishes, they should be provided with moderate lighting to enhance their colors. Soft corals and stony corals are ideal for these fishes to graze on and help keep them from eating each other or other fish in your tank.

What do Chaetodon vagabundus eat?

Chaetodon vagabundus butterflyfish are omnivores and are considered cleaner fish due to their ability to eat algae from other fish’s bodies. They also consume small invertebrates like crabs, worms, shrimp, and sea urchins. These fish should be fed a varied diet of seaweed, algae, and vegetable matter (lettuce) as well as freeze-dried krill and Mysis shrimp or brine shrimp twice a day.

Water parameters

Chaetodon vagabundus

The ideal water temperature should be 72 – 78 degrees Fahrenheit (22 – 26 degrees C), a ph of 8.1 – 8.4, salinity of 1.020 to 1.025, the dissolved oxygen level of 8+ ppm, Although Chaetodon vagabondus seems relatively easy to care for, you must make sure your butterfly is comfortable with its environment before releasing it into an aquarium setup.

When acclimating your fish, slowly lower their new tank water conditions by slowly increasing aeration from 10% of capacity until 100% is reached within 24 hours.

Chaetodon vagabundus lifespan

They are a hearty fish species with a lifespan of up to 6 years, however, improper care could potentially kill your pet within its first year.

Pests and diseases

They are commonly affected by several parasites, including protozoans and flatworms. They are also susceptible to developing bacterial infections if exposed to poor water conditions. In addition, these butterflyfish can contract a disease called Brooklynella hostilis which can lead to secondary infections like septicemia in larger individuals.

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The same infection can cause serious damage in smaller specimens, even leading to death in certain cases. Reducing stress is essential when taking care of Chaetodon vagabundus due to how easy it is for them to contract an illness or become stressed out in captivity; therefore, these fish should be housed with their own kind and with peaceful tank mates.


For many butterflyfish, one of their greatest enemies is other predators such as sharks and moray eels. However, like many butterflyfish species, Chaetodon vagabond has little known predators.

Do Chaetodon vagabundus make great pets?

Yes! Vagabond butterflyfish are active, peaceful, and fun to watch. They can be kept in a small aquarium with other butterflyfish as long as they’re of a similar size. While some butterflyfish are reef safe, they may eat ornamental shrimp or snails in your tank, so be sure to add these only after your fish have become used to their new home, otherwise, they’ll snack on them right away!