Tinker’s Butterflyfish: Beautiful, Hardy, and Way Beyond My Wages

Tinker's Butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri)

Tinker’s Butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri)

Novice marine aquarium hobbyists—especially those making the transition from freshwater to saltwater fishkeeping—commonly experience “sticker shock” when they see the prices of many marine species offered in the trade. After all, when you’re accustomed to spending only a few dollars to a few tens of dollars for freshwater fishes, even the least expensive marine fish can seem costly by comparison.

But some marine species take this price thing to a whole new level, with single specimens fetching many hundreds of dollars—you know, the kind of price that has us average mortal hobbyists thinking, “Hmm, someone must have misplaced a decimal point here.”

Among these sticker-shock species is Tinker’s butterflyfish, also known as the Hawaiian butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri), a Pacific butterfly that is most common around the Hawaiian Islands but whose range, according to FishBase, also includes Johnston Island and the Marshall Islands.

How much and why so expensive?

So what sort of price tag are we talking here? Think somewhere in the vicinity of $500 for a single small specimen. Of course, you can double that for the pairs that are sometimes offered for sale. This exorbitant price can be attributed primarily to the depth at which C. tinkeri is found—again according to FishBase, ranging from 27 to 135 meters (approximately 90 to 450 feet). As any scuba diver can attest, there are lots of challenges associated with collecting at such depths.

Physical traits

C. tinkersi has the laterally compressed body plan typical of butterflyfishes. Color-wise, its body is divided in half diagonally, with the anterior half being white with dark dots and the posterior half being black. The caudal fin and snout are yellow, while the vertical eye bands and a thin stripe running along the dorsal fin are orange-ish. The maximum size reported for this species is about 6 inches.


In nature, C. tinkersi feeds on a variety of planktonic and benthic (bottom-dwelling) invertebrates. Aquarium specimens will usually accept most small or chopped meaty items without much fuss. Frequent daily feedings—at least three “squares”—are recommended.


Minimum housing for Tinker’s butterflyfish is a tank between 75 and 100 gallons. Be sure to provide ample hiding places in the rockwork as well as open swimming space. Also, being a deep-water denizen, C. tinkersi tends to favor more subdued lighting schemes.


C. tinkersi is not especially quarrelsome toward other species, but it can be bullied into hiding/refusing food by more aggressive species, so choose only peaceful tankmates. Conspecifics may fight, so unless you can acquire a known pair, it might be best to keep only one specimen to a tank. Reef-safeness is dubious, as C. tinkersi is known to nip at various sessile invertebrates.

Is C. tinkersi worth the price?

But is C. tinkersi worth the long dollar it fetches on the market? Despite its journey from far, far away (unless you live in Hawaii) and deep beneath the waves, Tinker’s butterflyfish is a hardy species that usually adapts well to conditions in a well-maintained aquarium. Not to mention, it’s beautiful and fairly well-behaved. So, if you have the wherewithal and a certain appreciation for species that you can’t see every day in your local fish store, you certainly won’t be disappointed by C. tinkersi.


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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. Paul Baldassano says

    The price for these may come down substantially. When clown triggerfish first came into the hobby they were the most expensive fish at about $300.00. Now they give them away free with a bagel and cream cheese.

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