Butterfly Fish Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sara Clarke-Vivier

Sara is a recently graduated PhD in Education with interdisciplinary experience in K-12 education.

Come with me on a swim through the warm coral reefs to visit a school of butterfly fish. In this lesson, you will learn what these fish look like, where they live, what they eat, and whether you can keep one as a pet!

What Is a Butterfly Fish?

Imagine you are a scuba diver exploring the coral reefs in a warm, tropical location. As you swim above the coral, a bright yellow animal with black spots catches your eye. The patterns on its body look like a butterfly. Wait a second! There are no butterflies in the ocean. You have probably just discovered a butterfly fish.

There are more than 100 different species of butterfly fish in oceans around the world. Swim along with me and we will learn about these beautiful sea creatures.

A green and black colored butterfly fish
A Pale Green and Black Butterfly Fish

Where Do Butterfly Fish Live?

Butterfly fish are marine fish, which means that they live in the salty water of the ocean. They can be found in many places around the world, but prefer to live in warm, subtropical water. This means that you are most likely to find a butterfly fish in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.

Butterfly fish prefer to live in the shallow water in and around coral reefs. Most butterfly fish spend their time in small groups, called schools, but some are solitary and prefer to live alone.

Two yellow butterfly fish swim in the ocean
Two Yellow Butterfly Fish Swimming

What Do Butterfly Fish Look Like?

Not all butterfly fish look alike. Because there are more than 100 species of butterfly fish, there are many variations in the way they look.


Butterfly fish get their name because they are bright and colorful, with patterns on their bodies similar to butterflies. They can be black, orange, yellow, red, sliver, or white. Some butterfly fish also have stripes and spots on their bodies.

Many butterfly fish have similar patterns, including black stripes across their eyes, and eye-shaped spots on their bodies. These patterns are beautiful to look at, but they have another purpose. Stripes and spots can confuse predators like bigger fish, sharks, and eels.

Shape and Size

Depending on the species, butterfly fish can range in size from 3-8 inches in length. This means that the smallest butterfly fish might be about the size of your palm, while the largest might be the size of your dinner plate!

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