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Related FAQs: Surgeons In General, Selection, Compatibility, Systems, Feeding, Disease,

Related Articles: Surgeonfishes, Acanthurus, Ctenochaetus, Naso, Zebrasoma,

Marine Aquarium Use of the Cooks' Surgeons, Tangs and Doctorfishes

Bob Fenner


Surgeonfishes: Tangs for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care

New eBook on Amazon: Available here
New Print Book on Create Space: Available here

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Acanthuridae, Surgeons, Doctorfishes, Tangs. There are twenty-seven species of acanthurids that occur in the Cooks, including some of the most popular "good" and "bad" ones. Of the sixteen Acanthurus the Achilles (Acanthurus achilles) can be found in shallow waters (waist high and less) around most islands. It's a little hardier here than from Hawaii where it is typically collected but still an undesirable aquarium species… too easily damaged (soft-bodied) and prone to "bring in" disease. 

Acanthurus. achilles Shaw 1803, Achilles tang. Widely distributed from Hawaii westward through Micronesia and Melanesia, an area called Oceania. Though the best specimens do hail from U.S.'s 50th State success with this species can only be had by securing a healthy specimen, providing a large well-established living space, with high, consistent specific gravity and oxygen concentration. 

Variously known as the Lined, Oriental or Pajama Surgeon, Acanthurus lineatus will be caught elsewhere where it is more plentiful and cheaper to collect.

Acanthurus lineatus (Linnaeus 1758), the Clown, Pajama, or Oriental Surgeon is a bad fish for something in addition to lack of feeding and high mortality; its territoriality. This fish can become an unholy terror towards its tankmates, getting progressively worse with growth.

The Powder Brown (Cat Tang in Hawaii), Acanthurus nigricans, is also found here, though in limited numbers and is likewise easily lost. (Image)

Acanthurus (glaucopareius) nigricans (Linnaeus 1958), the Powder Brown or Gold-Rimmed Surgeon. The corrected scientific name of this species is A. nigricans (per Randall, 1988); a revision no doubt as unpopular to some as my labeling the species as "bad". The very similar A. japonicus is a far better aquarium fish; A. nigricans rarely lives for more than a few months in captivity. A juvenile in the Cooks and adult in captivity shown.

Of species that could be used but aren't much from anywhere, Acanthurus dussumieri, the Eyestripe Surgeonfish, Acanthurus pyroferus, the Chocolate Surgeonfish and all its mimics, Thompson's (here with a white caudal/tail fin), Acanthurus thompsoni, and Convict or Manini, (Acanthurus triostegus) ought to enjoy more popularity in the aquarium interest. There are several other species in the genus found here that are either too large for any but public aquarium use or unattractive color/pattern wise.

Acanthurus dussumieri Valenciennes 1835, the Eyestripe or Dussumier's Surgeonfish. This is a highly variably colored fish. Some are drab gray, whereas some I've seen from Hawai'i sported brilliant yellow around their body margin with beautiful royal purple highlights. This surgeon is more like the genus Ctenochaetus in its feeding habits, sifting sand and detritus in addition to algae scraping. Specimens off Maui and in an a hobbyist tank. To eighteen inches long in the wild.

Acanthurus thompsoni (Fowler 1923), the White-Tailed Surgeonfish, a good name for this species except for its populations in Hawaii which bear no white on their tail areas. Another name for this planktivore is Thompson's Surgeonfish. Though not a striking beauty, this Whitetail tang is a good feeder and stays moderate small (to ten inches). Rarely imported into the trade. A Hawaiian specimen and one from the Cooks pictured.

Acanthurus triostegus (Linnaeus 1758), (manini) Convict Tang or Manini (Hawaiian). One of the best Acanthurus for use in reef tanks for its size, easy going temperament and habit of consuming fine, filamentous algae. Reserved for native Hawaiian use in Hawai'i, but available from elsewhere. Juvenile in Hawai'i and a marauding school on the prowl in the Cooks.

The Bristle-Mouth Tangs, genus Ctenochaetus are excellent from everywhere they are found. Three species are found here, all favorites of marine aquarists who utilize them for diatom and filamentous algae control. The higher priced, beautiful Chevron, Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis is found here, as are the more inexpensive Kole or Yellow Eye, Ctenochaetus strigosus and Striped, Ctenochaetus striatus.

Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis (Chevron Tang); All Ctenochaetus species change color with age but the chevron is most striking. Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis young are unforgettable; bold orange bodied covered with variegated lines of electric blue. Adults shift to a deeper orange red base covered with darkish blue uneven horizontal lines, ultimately to almost black. Juvenile and adult specimens at right, in aquariums.

Ctenochaetus striatus (Quoy & Gaimard 1828) the Striped Bristletooth, is the one member of the genus found extending into the Red Sea (but also found in the Indo-Pacific to Oceania and the I.O.); it is the most frequently imported species in Europe. It's body color is overall drab olive sporting wavy blue lines. Small orange dots are sprinkled on the head. Here are specimens in Fiji and the Red Sea.

Ctenochaetus strigosus Bennett 1828, the Yellow-eyed or Kole Tang; since this and the Chevron Tangs range encompass the principal islands of Hawaii they are the principal species utilized in the West (though the Kole is found from all the way over in the Indian Ocean). The kole ("coal-ay") is more shallow water, surface to sixty feet or so, and the chevron is generally collected in fifty feet plus. 

The five Naso Tang species include the usual mix of ones that get way too big and/or are way too ugly to attract aquarist eyes and dollars. Every now and then the Spotted (aka the Shortnose at times/places in the trade) Naso brevirostris will be imported (from elsewhere), as well as the Bluespine (Naso unicornis) Unicornfish and Vlamingi or Bignose Unicornfish, Naso vlamingii, those these get quite large in the wild. THE Naso to many, Naso lituratus is found here, though not as commonly and in good numbers as the Aloha State.

Naso brevirostris (Valenciennes 1835),  sometimes called the Shortnose Unicorn Tang, is mis-named both scientifically and colloquially; it has a long nose as an adult. There are Naso species with much shorter, even absent the "horn" on the head. This grayish-green bodied fish is occasionally imported from Hawaii and the Indo-Pacific.

Naso lituratus (Forster 1801) the naso tang to most aquarists; it is also known as the tricolor or lipstick tang. There are some who claim that "blonde" and "streamer" versions are different species; they're all Naso lituratus. To eighteen inches in the wild.

A Naso in an aquarium

The business end of a Naso in Hawai'i

Naso unicornis (Forsskal 1775), the Bluespine, Large or Bignose Unicornfish, is a deep-bodied species that develops a prominent rostral horn starting at about five inches length. The body is light olive to gray with yellowish highlights on the abdomen; to more than two feet. Adult and juvenile shown.

Naso vlamingi (Valenciennes 1835), Vlaming's unicornfish has naught but a convex nose bump for a horn. Adult males are especially beautiful with bright blue and white highlights over a dark blue body.

Surgeonfishes: Tangs for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care

New eBook on Amazon: Available here
New Print Book on Create Space: Available here

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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