Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Visitors often ask why the scythe butterflyfish (Chaetodon falcifer, Prognathodes falcifer) is the emblematic fish of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. This dazzling fish of vivid yellow with distinctive black scythe-like markings is currently displayed in Tank 16.
The fish was chosen as the logo of the Birch Aquarium at Scripps because Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientists played a major role in discovering and describing the species.
A Colorful Find
Scripps graduate student Andy Rechnitzer first discovered the butterflyfish in 1954 near Guadalupe Island, Baja California. The discovery was published in a 1958 issue of the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences:
"Rechnitzer swam down with aqualung equipment to try to collect a bright orange-yellow fish (a pomacentrid?) that he had seen while applying the derris-root paste at a depth of about 20 feet. Failing to relocate that specimen in the clouded water, he went lower, to the rocky bottom at a depth of about 100 feet, where, about a foot off the bottom, under a slight ledge at the base of the vertical underwater cliff, he saw, in the extremely clear water, and speared, the magnificent butterflyfish we are describing."
In 1970, Scripps collectors Ron McConnaghey and Bob Kiwala captured a live scythe butterflyfish in the La Jolla Canyon and successfully displayed it at the aquarium. Former Aquarium Director Don Wilkie officially selected this fish as the aquarium's logo because it represented the mission of the aquarium: exploration, discovery, observation, research, and education.
About the Butterflyfish
The scythe butterfly is widespread along the Pacific coast and ranges from as far north as Catalina Island off southern California to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
It is an unusual species because it prefers coolers waters, while most other types of butterflyfish are warm-water species. In tropical regions it usually dwells between 300 and 500 feet, making it one of the deepest-water species of butterflyfishes.
Home Sweet Home
Since 1970, the aquarium has rarely been without our mascot on display. We have featured one specimen here for the past 17 years.
We recently moved the scythe butterflyfish into a larger display (Tank16). This display is a much better representation of the fish's natural habitat. Steep canyon walls with many crevices for hiding, lush growths of sea fans, and strong water currents are all characteristic of the scythe butterflyfish's native habitat. Best of all, this larger tank allows us to display more individuals of the species that represents the Birch Aquarium at Scripps.
Bob Burhans, Curator of Live Exhibits, Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Don Wilkie, Former Director, Birch Aquarium at Scripps