I’ve spent my diving career thinking that the Red Sea-endemic butterflyfish, Chaetodon austriacus, is just about the most attractive of an amazing genus. I finally managed to take shots of a few juvenile specimens. But first let’s have a look at the adult.
The Exquisite Butterflyfish is an absolute stunner. It reaches about 15cm and as you can see, it is beautifully marked with that blue/white stripe arching all the way from the eye to the dorsal. I particularly like the very edges of the caudal, dorsal, and anal fins that are picked out in yellow and white.
I should just clarify my earlier point about the fish being a Red Sea endemic. This is not entirely true, as it is found in Southern Oman as well. A similar species, C. melapterus, is found in the southern Red Sea and into the Gulf of Oman.
Like its relatives, C. austriacus is a polyp eater and as you’d expect it is usually seen in greater numbers amidst reefs where hard coral growth is at its best. In the image above you can see a fish I’d describe as half grown, at about ten centimeters. The nearby Six-line Wrasse offers some scale.
Like many fish, the younger they are, the cuter they are, which is not always a good thing of course; some dealers sell cute youngsters that should never be offered for the home market. However, I digress.
The above shot shows a typical hiding place for a young butterflyfish. They tend to stay within the branches of hard coral. You can see how this youngster has a very noticeable black spot on the caudal peduncle, which I’ve always assumed acts as an ocellus, to distract predators from the more easily-damaged head end.
In this final image you can see an even younger fish. It is hard to estimate size but I’d say that it was about four centimeters. Try as I might, I could not get a shot without the Chromis dimidiata getting in the way.