Many marine aquarist newbies covet members of the family Chaetodontidae — the butterflyfish — but are quickly discouraged from considering one for their aquariums because of their sensitive demeanors. While it is true that most members of the family are better left to the more experienced fishkeeper, there are a handful of species that are sturdy aquarium inhabitants. One of these is the Cyrano de Bergerac of the family, the yellow longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus). Not only is this xanthous beauty pleasing to the eye, it also has an engaging personality.
Difficulty: The yellow longnose butterflyfish is indeed one of the more aquarium-adaptable of the butterflyfish. The yellow longnose butterflyfish usually accepts most captive foods, snapping up frozen mysid shrimp, frozen preparations for carnivores and finely shaved seafood (e.g., shrimp). Feed it at least twice a day. Forcipiger flavissimus will also appreciate some live rock from which it will extract small worms and crustaceans.
Physical description: The yellow longnose butterflyfish is yellow overall with a bicolor head — it is white below and black above. The yellow longnose butterflyfish also has a black spot at the rear of the anal fin. The big yellow longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger longirostris) is very similar in appearance, but be aware that it is more difficult to keep than Forcipiger flavissimus. The snout of Forcipiger longirostris is longer than that of its cousin and is different in morphology. While the yellow longnose butterflyfish has a snout like a pair of needle-nosed pliers, which it uses for ripping the feeding tentacles off of polychaete worms and the tube feet of sea urchins, the snout of the big longnose butterflyfish is more like a pipette that functions to suck up small crustaceans whole. Forcipiger longirostris can also be separated from its kin by the black spots on the chest, which are lacking in Forcipiger flavissimus. The yellow longnose butterflyfish reaches a length of 8.5 inches.
Range: Forcipiger flavissimus occurs from the Red Sea all the way to Central America. The yellow longnose butterflyfish is usually found on clear coral reefs, where it flits above stony and soft coral growth, and inspects the substrate for its favorite foods. It is found at a broad depth range, from 6 to 475 feet, hanging out in caves and under overhangs. Unlike many butterflyfish, adult Forcipiger flavissimus are often solitary creatures, but they do occasionally occur in loose pairs.
Compatibility: The yellow longnose butterflyfish is not very aggressive toward non-relatives. It will fight with like species (e.g., big yellow longnose butterflyfish) and members of its own kind. I would suggest you keep only one yellow longnose butterflyfish per aquarium unless you can acquire a known female-male pair (sexing these fish is not easy). While it may be picked on by other butterflyfish, angelfish, surgeonfish and triggerfish, it is quick to defend itself by directing its long dorsal spines at its attacker. If you are going to house the yellow longnose butterflyfish with more pugnacious fish, add it to the aquarium first. This butterflyfish tends to be more destructive in the reef aquarium than its ochreous cousin, the copperbanded butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus). The yellow longnose butterflyfish will occasionally nip at stony coral polyps and soft coral species, such as Xenia and Anthelia. The yellow longnose butterflyfish is not as effective at controlling Aiptasia anemones as the copperbanded butterflyfish either.
Aquarium conditions: Adult yellow longnose butterflyfish should be housed in aquarium of at least 75 gallons that includes several suitable caves for it to hide in when it feels threatened. Acceptable water parameters for the yellow longnose butterflyfish would be: pH of 8.1 to 8.4, specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 76 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
Care considerations: The yellow longnose butterflyfish sometimes comes down with the more common aquarium illnesses, namely Cryptocaryon and Amyloodinium. The yellow longnose butterflyfish is also a frequent carrier of the viral infection, Lymphocystis, which manifests itself as cauliflowerlike growths on the finnage. While it is rarely lethal, it takes away from the yellow longnose butterflyfish’s beauty.
Breeding: The yellow longnose butterflyfish does not spawn in the home aquarium. Yellow longnose butterflyfish pair-spawns in the wild and produces pelagic eggs.