Chaetodon capistratusIsabelita(Also: Katy; Parche; Parche ocelado)

Geographic Range

Chaetodon capistratus is found in the western waters of the tropical Atlantic. Its latitudinal ranges are along the North and South American coasts, stretching from Massachusetts to Brazil as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2001).


They only occur in shallow coral reefs in depths of 2 - 20 meters. They seek shelter at night in crevices hiding from predators such as moray eel and various sharks (Florida Museum of Natural History, 2001).

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • reef

Physical Description


Social foraging groups of as many as 15 individuals have been observed where there were no consistent pairings. Density of the adults in the reef may have caused the pairing to break down (Colin, 1989). The "social communication hypothesis" proposes that ocelli should be variable among individuals in which the variability would serve as differences that can be used to recognized individuals (Meadows, 1993). This hypothesis was supported by the fact that pairs of fishes display laterally to each other while rejoining after being separated (Meadows, 1993).

Besides functioning as an identification feature, the ocelli also have anti-predator functions. First, the bigger ocelli may deter predators from attacking because the big "eyes" suggests a bigger size. Predators may mistake the back end of the fish as the front end since they prefer to aim for the eyes and when the fishes flee, the predator is presented with the big "eyes". During that time of confusion, C. capistratus has a greater chance to escape. Also, predators are more successful when attacking perpendicular to their prey's longitudinal axis and the vertical oval "eye" would throw off the predator's perception on its positioning. And the butterfly is given time to escape while the predator tries to right itself (Meadows, 1993). This seems to only apply to smaller C. capistratus since the trait of vertical oval "eyes" occurs in them. The adaptation of vertical eyes in smaller fishes may be a response to higher predations on smaller fishes.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Chaetodon capistratus is a browser who feeds on anthozoans preferring hexacoral such as scleractinians, anemones, and zoantharians (Birkeland and Neudecker, 1981). They are reef fishes that not only rely on the corals for habitat but also food. Anthozoans are readily available on coral reefs therefore it's not surprising that anthozoan tissue is their main diet. They are considered active generalists because anthozoans have minimal nutritional value and in order to make up for that loss, C. capistratus readily accepts fish eggs, worms or crustaceans when these foods are accessible. Having a mixing diet provides essential nutrients or a balanced diet for assimilation efficiency or both (Birkeland and Neudecker, 1981).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Chaetodon capistratus are harvested for the aquarium trade. Their small size and attractiveness is ideal for an aquarium fish.

Conservation Status

This species is not listed on any of the hot lists. It is the most common of the butterflyfish in the West Indies.


Qing Qing Wu (author), SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Kimberly Schulz (editor), SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.


uses touch to communicate


Birkeland, C., S. Neudecker. 1981. Foraging behavior of two Caribbean Chaetodontids: Chaetodon capistratus and C. aculeatus.. Copeia, 1981: 169-178.

Colin, P. 1989. Aspects of the spawning of western Atlantic butterflyfishes (Pisces: Chaetodontidae).. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 25: 131-141.

Florida Museum of Natural History, 2001. ""Biological Profiles - Four-eye Butterflyfish" (On-line). Accessed April 30,2001 at

Froese, R., D. Pauly, eds.. 2001. "Fish Base: Chaetodon capistratus" (On-line). Accessed April 30,2001 at

Meadows, D. 1993. Morphological variation in eye-spots of the foureye butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus): Implications for eyespot function.. Copeia, 1993: 235-240.