Temporal range: 28–0 Ma

Late Oligocene? - Recent
Foureye butterflyfish, C. capistratus
the type species of Chaetodon
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Chaetodontidae
Genus: Chaetodon
Linnaeus, 1758

Chaetodon Linnaeus, 1758
"Citharoedus" Kaup, 1860 (non Herrmannsen, 1847: preoccupied)
Corallochaetodon Burgess, 1978
Discochaetodon Nalbant, 1971
Exornator Nalbant, 1971
Gonochaetodon Bleeker, 1876
Lepidochaetodon Bleeker, 1876
Megaprotodon Guichenot, 1848
Parachaetodon Bleeker, 1874 (but see text)
Rabdophorus Swainson, 1839
Rhombochaetodon Burgess, 1978 (disputed)
Roa Jordan, 1923 (but see text)
Tetrachaetodon Weber & Beaufort, 1936
and see text


Aspilurochaetodon Mauge & Bauchot, 1984 Burgessius Mauge & Bauchot, 1984 Chaetodontops Bleeker, 1876
Heterochaetodon Mauge & Bauchot, 1984
Loa Jordan, 1921 (non Stiles 1905: preoccupied)
Roaops Mauge & Bauchot, 1984
Tifia Jordan in Jordan & Jordan, 1922

Chaetodon is a tropical fish genus in the family Chaetodontidae. Like their relatives, they are known as "butterflyfish". This genus is by far the largest among the Chaetodontidae, with about 90 living species included here[1], though most might warrant recognition as distinct genera.

Several subgenera have been proposed for splitting out of this massive group. By and by, it is becoming clear how the genus might be split up, with a range[2] of DNA sequence data in large parts agreeing with S.D. Blum's landmark 1988 phylogenetic assessment of osteology[3].

Basically, a core group around the type species Chaetodon capistratus would remain in Chaetodon, while maybe 4 clades would be split off. These could use the names Lepidochaetodon, Megaprotodon and Rabdophorus, and there is one unnamed group containing the Three-banded Butterflyfish (C. robustus) and its relatives. But the monophyly of the Lepidochaetodon group is not fully established; it is both unclear whether Rhombochaetodon is a lineage distinct from Exornator, and whether Lepidochaetodon is indeed closer to these than to any other Chaetodon, particularly to some lineages otherwise placed in Megaprotodon.[2]

Prognathodes, for some time contained in Chaetodon, is worthy of recognition as full genus in any case. Genus status of Parachaetodon and Roa is possible, but not well-studied yet.

The oldest fossils that are usually assigned to Chaetodon date from the late Oligocene, about 25 million years ago. But since it is not easy to distinguish this genus from close relatives, it may be that the Oligocene fossils are actually of other Chaetodontidae. The fossil record of this family is scant indeed, only Chelmon (or some similar genus like Chelmonops or Coradion) being known from Miocene remains. As even crude molecular clocks suggest that the ancestors of the Chaetodon and the Chelmops lineage diverged in the Late Eocene already, nothing more can be said without new fossils being discovered.[4]

Historically, more distantly related fish were placed in Chaetodon too, for resembling them in details – e.g. the common scat Scatophagus argus, which has a similar shape and size, as well as armored larvae like the Chaetodontidae – or simply because they are colorful, smallish, and unusually-looking – e.g. the quite unrelated Paradise Fish, as C. chinensis.



Chaetodon sensu stricto

C. robustus group

Lepidochaetodon group

Subgenus Exornator (including Burgessius, Heterochaetodon and possibly Rhombochaetodon; tentatively placed here)

Subgenus Lepidochaetodon (including Tifia)

  • Chaetodon daedalma Jordan & Fowler, 1902 – Wrought-iron butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon interruptusYellow teardrop butterflyfish (formerly in C. unimaculatus)
  • Chaetodon kleiniiSunburst butterflyfish, black-lipped butterflyfish, Klein's butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon litusEaster Island butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon nippon Döderlein, 1883 – Japanese butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon smithi Randall, 1975 – Smith's butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon trichrous Günther, 1874 – Tahiti butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon unimaculatusTeardrop butterflyfish

Subgenus Rhombochaetodon (including Roaops, might belong in Exornator; tentatively placed here)

  • Chaetodon argentatus Smith & Radcliffe, 1911 – Asian butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon blackburnii Desjardins, 1836 – Brownburnie (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon burgessi Allen & Starck, 1973 – Burgess' butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon declivis Randall, 1975 – Marquesas butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon flavocoronatusYellow-crowned butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon fremblii Bennett, 1828 – Blue-striped butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon madagaskariensisSeychelles butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon mertensiiAtoll butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon mitratus Günther, 1860 – Indian butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon paucifasciatusEritrean butterflyfish, Crown butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon tinkeriHawaiian butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon xanthurusPearlscale butterflyfish, Philippines chevron butterflyfish, yellow-tailed butterflyfish

Megaprotodon group

Subgenus "Citharoedus" (tentatively placed here)

Subgenus Corallochaetodon (tentatively placed here)

Subgenus Discochaetodon

  • Chaetodon aureofasciatus Macleay, 1878 – Golden butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon octofasciatusEightband butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon rainfordi McCulloch, 1923 – Rainford's butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon tricinctus Waite, 1901 – Three-striped butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)

Subgenus Gonochaetodon (tentatively placed here)

Subgenus Megaprotodon

Subgenus Tetrachaetodon

  • Chaetodon andamanensis Kuiter & Debelius, 1999 – Andaman butterflyfish (tentatively placed here)
  • Chaetodon bennettiBluelashed butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon plebeius Cuvier, 1831 – Blue-blotched butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon speculumMirror butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon zanzibarensis Playfair, 1867 – Zanzibar butterflyfish

Parachaetodon group

  • Chaetodon oligacanthus Bleeker, 1850 – Sixspine butterflyfish (if separated, name becomes Parachaetodon ocellatus)

Rabdophorus group

Including Aspilurochaetodon, Chaetodontops

Roa group

  • Chaetodon australis Kuiter, 2004 – Triple-banded butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon excelsa (Jordan, 1921) – Hawaiian gold-barred butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon jayakari Norman, 1939 – Indian gold-barred butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon modestus Temminck & Schlegel, 1844 – Brown-banded butterflyfish

Incertae sedis

Most are probably either Chaetodon sensu stricto or C. robustus group.

  • Chaetodon assarius Waite, 1905 – West Australian butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon dialeucos Salm & Mee, 1989 – Oman butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon hemichrysus Burgess & Randall, 1978 – Half-yellow butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon humeralis Günther, 1860
  • Chaetodon marleyiMarley's butterflyfish
  • Chaetodon sanctaehelenae Günther, 1868 – Saint Helena butterflyfish


  1. ^ FishBase (2006)
  2. ^ a b Fessler & Westneat (2007), Hsu et al. (2007)
  3. ^ Blum (1988)
  4. ^ Sepkoski (2002), Fessler & Westneat (2007)


  • Blum, S.D. (1988): Osteology and Phylogeny of the Chaetodontidae (Pisces: Perciformes). University of Hawaii, Honolulu.
  • Fessler, Jennifer L. & Westneat, Mark W. (2007): Molecular phylogenetics of the butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae): Taxonomy and biogeography of a global coral reef fish family. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 45(1): 50–68. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2007.05.018 (HTML abstract)
  • FishBase (2006): Chaetodon species. Version of 2006-MAR-14. Retrieved 2008-SEP-02.
  • Hsu, Kui-Ching; Chen, Jeng-Ping & Shao, Kwang-Tsao (2007): Molecular phylogeny of Chaetodon (Teleostei: Chaetodontidae) in the Indo-West Pacific: evolution in geminate species pairs and species groups. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 14: 77-86. PDF fulltext
  • Sepkoski, Jack (2002): [Chaetodon]. In: A compendium of fossil marine animal genera. Bulletins of American Paleontology 364: 560. HTML database excerpt

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