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Temporal range: 28–0 Ma
Late Oligocene? – Recent
Chaetodon capistratus2.jpg
Foureye butterflyfish, C. capistratus
the type species of Chaetodon
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Chaetodontidae
Genus: Chaetodon
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Chaetodon capistratus
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
Rabdophorus Swainson, 1839
Rhombochaetodon Burgess, 1978 (disputed)
Tetrachaetodon Weber & Beaufort, 1936
and see text

  • Aspilurochaetodon Mauge & Bauchot, 1984
  • Burgessius Mauge & Bauchot, 1984
  • Chaetodontops Bleeker, 1876
  • Heterochaetodon Mauge & Bauchot, 1984
  • 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.


There are currently 87 recognized species in this genus:[2]

Chaetodon sensu stricto[edit]

C. robustus group[edit]

Lepidochaetodon group[edit]

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

Subgenus Lepidochaetodon (including Tifia)

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

Megaprotodon group[edit]

Subgenus "Citharoedus" (tentatively placed here)

Subgenus Corallochaetodon (tentatively placed here)

Subgenus Discochaetodon

Subgenus Gonochaetodon (tentatively placed here)

Chaetodon triangulum

Subgenus Megaprotodon

Subgenus Tetrachaetodon

Rabdophorus group[edit]

Including Aspilurochaetodon, Chaetodontops

Incertae sedis[edit]

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

Proposed subgenera[edit]

Several subgenera have been proposed for splitting out of this group. It is becoming clear how the genus might be split up, with a range[3] of DNA sequence data in large parts agreeing with S.D. Blum's landmark 1988 phylogenetic assessment of osteology.[4]

Basically, a core group around the type species Chaetodon capistratus would remain in Chaetodon, while maybe four 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.[3]

Prognathodes, for some time contained in Chaetodon, is worthy of recognition as full genus, as is Roa.[5]

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.

Fossil record[edit]

Fossil of Chaetodon species

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.[6][7]


  1. ^ FishBase (2006)
  2. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2013). Species of Chaetodon in FishBase. February 2013 version.
  3. ^ a b Fessler & Westneat (2007), Hsu et al. (2007)
  4. ^ Blum (1988)
  5. ^ Kuiter, R. H. 2004. Description of a new species of butterflyfish, Roa australis, from northwestern Australia (Pisces: Perciformes: Chaetodontidae). Records of the Australian Museum v. 56 (no. 2): 167-171.
  6. ^ Sepkoski (2002), Fessler & Westneat (2007)
  7. ^ Paleobiology Database


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. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45(1): 50–68. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2007.05.018
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

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Chaetodon at Wikimedia Commons
  • Data related to Chaetodon at Wikispecies