Last update: November 8, 2023

15 Best African Butterfly Fish Tank Mates – FishLab

For a true challenge, add an African butterfly fish to your aquarium. They’re interesting hunters, preferring the topmost area of the tank to prey and hunt insects. But, they are quite aggressive, so putting them into a community tank is a delicate balancing act.

We’ll layout the 15 best African butterfly fish tank mates. Kuhli loaches, ropefish, nerite snails, altum angelfish and knifefish are ideal selections. However, a variety of plecos and tetras work as well.

The idea is to select a tank mate for an African butterfly fish that will occupy a separate area. The more frequently they stay out of each others’ ways, the better off all your inhabitants will be.

15 Best African Butterfly Fish Tank Mates – What You Need To Know

These gorgeous creatures make a beautiful addition to any home aquarium. The best roommates for an African butterfly fish (ABFs) will mostly be ones that are the same size or larger. However, they are not for beginners and require attention. Therefore, only intermediate to advanced aquarists should attempt to care for an ABF.


African butterfly fish are notoriously aggressive toward other ABFs and other species. This is particularly true of the males, which are easily defensive. Therefore, if you want to keep them in a community tank, their roommates must be able to withstand them.

Yet, they are mostly sedentary creatures preferring the uppermost regions. They are opportunistic and exacting hunters for foods like mosquitoes and crickets. While they aren’t good at hunting other fish, if one small enough gets near their mouth, they will eat it.


ABFs can grow to five inches long but don’t get much larger than four inches in a tank environment.


Oftentimes, ABFs perceive competition from those of their own kind, especially when there is more than one male. However, they will treat other fish wafting into their territory as a threat. However, if their tank is too small, any fish residing with them will automatically come under their swift retribution.

Parameters ; Tank Setup

African butterfly fish are freshwater inhabitants requiring slightly acidic or soft water. There must be plenty of surface area at the top of the tank along with floating plants. The foliage allows them to hide for their predatory pursuits. ABFs are excellent jumpers, so the aquarium lid must be secure and tight. Also, they require a powerful tank filter that flows over the substrate.

  • Tank Size: At least 40 gallons
  • Temperature: Between 75°F and 86°F (23°C and 28°C)
  • pH Balance: 6.5 to 7.0
  • Water Hardness: 8 to 12 dGH

15 Best African Butterfly Fish Tank Mates

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1. Kuhli Loaches

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  • Scientific Name: Pangio kuhlii
  • Adult Size: No more than four inches
  • Compatible with: Cory Catfish, Tetras, Guppies, Honey Gouramis, Molly Fish, Danios, Rasboras
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: Southeast Asia; Borneo, Sumatra, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia

Sometimes called eel loaches or leopard loaches, the kuhli loach is a slender snake-like fish. What makes them ideal to house with an African butterfly fish is that they are nocturnal and have an entirely different time of operation throughout the course of the day. The likelihood of these two to face off is low.

2. Bristlenose Plecos

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  • Scientific Name: Ancistrus Cirrhosus
  • Adult Size: About four to five inches
  • Compatible with: Neon Tetras, Cory Catfish, Gouramis, Molly Fish, Platys
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: South America; Amazon River Basin

Bristlenose plecos are bottom-dwellers with a sedentary lifestyle. Because they inhabit an entirely different region of the tank than African butterfly fish, they won’t bother each other. The only trouble with the Bristlenose is how much waste they deposit into the tank.

3. Zebra Nerite Snails

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  • Scientific Name: Neritina natalensis
  • Adult Size: Between ½ to 1½ inches
  • Compatible with: Amano Shrimp, Ghost Shrimp, Cherry Shrimp, Danios
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: East African Coast; Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Somalia, Kenya

What makes the zebra nerite snail perfect for cohabitation with an African butterfly fish is how they have very similar water parameters. While these snails prefer peaceful and fun-loving neighbors, they shouldn’t get in the way of an ABF, if ever at all.

4. Ropefish

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  • Scientific Name: Erpetoichthys calabaricus
  • Adult Size: As much as 15 inches
  • Compatible with: Pictus Catfish, Tinfoil Barb, Dwarf Gourami, Kuhli Loach
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin:  Central and West Africa

Also called a snake fish or reedfish, their various names indicate this creature’s appearance. They make an attractive an exotic addition to any tank while being able to hold their own when neighboring African butterfly fish. However, they do require atmospheric air on occasion and this is where these two species may spar.

5. Rubber Lip Plecos

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  • Scientific Name: Chaetostoma milesi
  • Adult Size: About seven inches
  • Compatible with: Honey Gourami, Cory Catfish, Ember Tetras, Sparkling Gourami, Neon Tetras
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: South America; Colombia, Venezuela

Because rubber lip plecos are bottom feeders, they do not often interact with African butterfly fish. They eat mostly algae, so they make a great cleanup crew for your tank. Plus, they enjoy almost the exact same water parameters. These plecos simply require some driftwood and rocks for hiding spaces.

6. Altum Angelfish

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  • Scientific Name: Pterophyllum altum
  • Adult Size: As much as seven inches long with a max height of nine inches
  • Compatible with: Emperor Tetra, Corydora, Cockatoo Cichlid
  • Care Level: Medium/Intermediate
  • Origin: Orinoco River Basin and Upper Rio Negro Watershed in Columbia, Brazil and Venezuela

Altum angelfish are an ideal roommate for African butterfly fish because of their sheer size. However, they are a bit difficult to handle and require a more hands-on approach from their keepers. Regardless, their large size means ABFs won’t bother them while also being beautiful and incredibly social.

7. Emperor Tetras

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  • Scientific Name: Nematobrycon palmeri
  • Adult Size: Up to two inches
  • Compatible with: Gourami, Platys, Guppies, Cory Catfish, Ember Tetra
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: Western Colombia

The impressive iridescence and reflective hues bestowing an emperor tetra makes a striking addition to a tank with African butterfly fish. They have a happy go-lucky disposition and are immensely peaceful. Even though they’re a little too small for comfort, the chances of them coming to blows with an ABF are rare.

8. Giant Danios

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  • Scientific Name: Devario aequipinnatus
  • Adult Size: Between four and six inches
  • Compatible with: Tiger Barb, Clown Loach, Other Danios
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal

Giant Danios are beautiful deep blue fish with semi-translucent gold fins and make a wonderful contrast against an African butterfly fish. They’re peaceful yet energetic and love spending their time in the center of the tank. But, they will have some aggression in terms of their territory, so they are more than capable of living with an ABF.

9. Congo Tetras

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  • Scientific Name: Phenacogrammus interruptus
  • Adult Size: 3 to 3½ inches
  • Compatible with: Dwarf Cichlids, Cory Catfish, Ember Tetras, Elephantnose Fish, Chili Rasbora
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: Congo River Basin

Congo tetras do well with African butterfly fish as long as they shoal with others of their own kind. They also love the middle to top sections of the tank, so you will have to observe the reaction of your AFBs. While it is a little risky, many aquarists illustrate how it can work with a large tank and enough food for each species.

10. West African Cichlids

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  • Scientific Name: Pelvicachromis drachenfelsi, P. taeniatus
  • Adult Size: Between 2¼ and 7 inches
  • Compatible with: Other West African Cichlids, Otocinclus Catfish
  • Care Level: Medium/Intermediate. 
  • Origin: West Africa, the Wouri river system in Cameroon

Also called a striped kribensis or taeniatus wouri, these vibrant colored fish with striking iridescence are fantastic tank mates for ABFs. They come from similar regions, which means they have similar water parameters and other requirements. But, expect to have a large tank since they need eight of their own to be happy.

11. Black Ghost Knifefish

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  • Scientific Name: Apteronotus albifrons
  • Adult Size: Between 14 and 18 inches
  • Compatible with: Angelfish, Large Cichlids and Sizable, Peaceful Species
  • Care Level: Difficult/Advanced
  • Origin: South America; Venezuela to Paraguay

Black ghost knifefish have to be one of the most interesting species on earth. They have electromotor and electrosensory systems built into their bodies, allowing them to produce a weak electrical signal. They use this to communicate with others of their own kind and give a light shock to would-be predators.

12. Banjo Catfish

  • Scientific Name: Bunocephalus coracoideus 
  • Adult Size: Between five and six inches
  • Compatible with:Cory Catfish, Tetras, Dwarf Cichlids
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: South America; Peru, Bolivia and Brazil

Banjo catfish look like the shape of a banjo and are very sedentary, serene creatures that are active at night. Their love of the lower tank regions and nocturnal habits makes them perfect to house with an African butterfly fish.

13. Elephantnose Fish

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  • Scientific Name: Gnathonemus petersii
  • Adult Size: Around nine inches
  • Compatible with: Black Ghost Knifefish
  • Care Level: Medium/Intermediate
  • Origin: African Rivers; Ogun, Chari, Niger 

The appearance of an elephantnose fish is interesting indeed, indicated by its name. They have a rather long and thin nose, which not only allows them to find food but also plays a part in their ability to pick up on subtle electric impulses. Since they love the same kinds of water conditions as ABFs, they make an ideal neighbor.

14. Rainbow Kribensis

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  • Scientific Name: Pelvicachromis pulcher
  • Adult Size: As much as four inches
  • Compatible with: Gouramis, Tetras, Zebra Danio, Cherry Barb, Harlequin Rasbora
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Origin: West Africa; Cameroon, Nigeria, Sierra Leone

While not recommended for a community tank, rainbow kribensis can stand African butterfly fish. They often stay in a cave, so they’ll spend their time there more than anywhere else in their watery abode. Plus, once each fish understands they’re outmatched for each other, they won’t likely have confrontations.

15. African Butterfly Fish

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  • Scientific Name: Pantodon buchholzi
  • Adult Size: About four inches
  • Compatible with: Other ABFs
  • Care Level: Medium/Intermediate
  • Origin: Africa

As mentioned earlier, African butterfly fish are a finicky species to house with other fish. So, if you’re going to have others, ensure there are more females than males to reduce aggression during spawning. However, they must have a tank large enough to accommodate, especially if you plan to breed.


When attempting to find roommates, consider this list of 15 best African butterfly fish tank mates. All of them can withstand the aggression offered by an ABF. However, due to the sheer size, expect to keep a big tank and prepare to maintain it with a close eye.

Ian Sterling

Ian Sterling, founder of, began his aquarium journey over 30 years ago, driven by a deep fascination for fish and their diverse personalities. His website,, is dedicated to making fishkeeping accessible and enjoyable, offering beginner-friendly guidance, expert insights, and a community for aquarists to connect and share experiences.

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