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Related FAQs: Hawaiian Surgeonfishes, Surgeons In General, Tang ID, Selection, Compatibility, Systems, Feeding, Disease,

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

Indonesian Surgeons, Tangs and Doctorfishes


Bob Fenner  
Surgeonfishes: Tangs for  Marine Aquariums
Diversity, Selection & Care

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by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Genus Acanthurus:

Acanthurus bariene Lesson 1831, the Black-Spot Surgeonfish. Indo-West Pacific; Mozambique, Maldives to Indonesia. To 50 cm. Males develop "nuchal humps" like cichlids. Feed on algae films on bare rocks. Here in Mabul, Malaysia.

Acanthurus chronixis  Randall 1960, a/the Mimic or Chronixis Surgeonfish. Very similar to C. vrolikii, anterior two-thirds silver-gray to deep black posteriorly, and identical blue highlights on the unpaired fins. One in Sulawesi, the Angel in captivity. Pix by RMF.

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, in an a hobbyist tank and a profile of one off Queensland, Australia. To eighteen inches long in the wild.

Acanthurus japonicus (Fowler 1946), the White-Faced Surgeonfish; also sold as a/the Gold-Rimmed or Powder-Brown Surgeon, confusing it with A. glaucopareius (nigricans) (see below). A. japonicus has a much larger white eye patch. Ranges from the Philippines to Japan and is relatively hardy. A nigricans, the Powder-Brown at right for comparison (Nuka Hiva, Marquesas pic).

Acanthurus leucosternon Bennett 1832, the Powder Blue Tang. I can hear some of you screaming, "this isn't a difficult fish!" "I've known people to keep the Powder Blue for years!" Most specimens don't make it even through capture and shipping. Those that are well received and cared for sometimes do live for a good long time. Two maxims for success: One to a tank, and lots of live rock with algae.


Acanthurus lineatus (Linnaeus 1758), the Striped, Pajama/Pyjama, Clown Surgeonfish. Indo-Pacific; with exception of Red Sea (replaced by similar Sohal). An aggressive species that causes trouble often with growth in aquariums. To fifteen inches in length. Lives along reef edges of high water movement, and oxygen concentration. At right: in Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, Polynesia. Below: Specimens from the Seychelles, Maldives and Australia.

Acanthurus mata Cuvier 1829, the Elongate or Mata Surgeonfish. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea, eastern African coast to French Polynesia, Japan, GBR, Micronesians. Similar to A. xanthopterus lives almost exclusively on zooplankton. Long misidentified as A. bleekeri. To 50 cm. This one off of Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia. 

Acanthurus nigricans (Linnaeus 1758) Whitecheek to science, Powder Brown Surgeonfish to aquarists. Formerly mis-identified as A. glaucopareius. Pan Pacific. To about eight inches maximum length. See article on this and the very similar, but more pet-fish-appropriate A. japonicus. At right in Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, Polynesia. Specimens below from Australia, the Cooks (Roratonga) and Baja, Mexico. 

Acanthurus nigricauda Duncker & Mohr 1929, the Brown-Eared Surgeonfish (note the stripe behind the eye); the most carnivorous Surgeon. Found in close association with barracudas, even sharks in the Red Sea. Feeds on meat scraps and small demersal animals. Grows to a length of twenty inches. One off of Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia, another in N. Sulawesi, and last in the Maldives.

Acanthurus nigrofuscus (Forsskal 1775), the blackish Brown or Spot-Cheeked Surgeonfish. Manageable size (to eight inches), and moderate behavior toward other fishes qualify the Brown Tang as a desirable aquarium species especially as an algae controller. Unfortunately it is a rather plain fish. Red Sea images of individual and group feeding together to overwhelm more aggressive, territorial fishes. 

Acanthurus olivaceus Forster & Schneider 1801, the Orange Spot/Shoulder Tang. A hardy fish out of Hawaii and elsewhere, but unfortunately, a behavioral terror in the ranks of A. lineatus. This is an active fish that grows to more than a foot in length. Place only with MEAN tankmates. A juvenile, sub-adult and adult pictured, Fiji, Hawai'i and Hawai'i respectively.
Acanthurus pyroferus see below under: Mimic Tangs. Aquarium and Australian and N. Sulawesi images of "wild type" individuals as adults. There are quite a few mimic and mixed looking variants in this species. See below under "Mimic Tangs".

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, one from the Cooks and Australia's northern coast 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.

Acanthurus tristis Randall 1993, the Indian Ocean Mimic Surgeonfish. Indian Ocean; Maldives, Chagos, Andaman Sea to Indonesia. To 25 cm. Aquarium pix. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/

The Tang Mimic Centropyge eibli
Acanthurus xanthopterus Valenciennes 1835, (pualu) the Yellowfin Surgeonfish. Similar to the Ringtail and Eyestripe Surgeonfishes, but lacks the other two's light caudal coloration. This is the largest member of the genus Acanthurus, to about 22 inches long. A specimen in the Cooks. 

Genus Ctenochaetus

Ctenochaetus binotatus Randall 1955, the Blue-Eye or Two-Spot Bristletooth for the two dark areas at the rear of the dorsal and anal fin bases. Sometimes brought in from the Philippines. Below: A juvenile in Mabul, Malaysia and adult pix in Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia and Fiji.

Ctenochaetus cyanocheilus Randall & Clements 2001. West Pacific; Ogasawaras through the Philippines, Indo. N. Australia and Noumea east to Samoa and Marshalls. 13.7 cm. These in N. Sulawesi. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/

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 and a couple tussling in the Red Sea.

Ctenochaetus tominiensis Randall 1955, the Tomini Bristletooth (3), is occasionally brought in from the Philippines. Of the four regularly available species of Ctenochaetus, the Tomini Bristletooth, is the most difficult to keep. Only Ctenochaetus with angular dorsal and anal fin ends. Rarely imported. Aquarium and N. Sulawesi pix.

Genus Naso

Naso annulatus (Quoy & Gaimard 1825), the Whitemargin Unicornfish. Indo-Pacific; East Africa to Hawai'i. To a meter in length. This eight inch one off of Heron Island, Australia's Great Barrier Reef. 

Naso brachycentron (Valenciennes 1835), the Humpback Unicornfish. Indo-Pacific; eastern Africa to the Marquesan and Society Islands. To thirty six inches in length... yes a yard long. Off of Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia and N. Sulawesi. 

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. To two feet long. Hawai'i and Fiji pix.

Naso hexacanthus (Bleeker 1855), Sleek Unicornfish. Indo-Pacific species... to about 30 inches in length. Not kept in home aquariums... as are other too-large Naso species from these islands. Neither males nor females develop a horn; but do have black tongues! One in Hawaii, a flashing male in the Red Sea and a more "normal" colored one getting a clean-up job there by Labroides shown below. This species has a dark margin on its preopercle and operculum that helps distinguish it from similar species. 

Naso lituratus, 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. Below, a Naso in an aquarium, he business end of a Naso in Hawai'i, and a beautiful "streamer" (male) there getting cleaned by a Cleaner Wrasse. 

Naso lopezi Herre 1927, the Elongate Unicornfish. Western Pacific; N. Japan to the GBR, Similans, Guam, Tonga. To 57 cm. Here in N. Sulawesi. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/

Naso tuberosus Lacepede 1801, the Humpnose Unicornfish. Indo-Western Pacific; East Africa, Mascarenes, Seychelles to Indonesia. To 60 cm. Here in N. Sulawesi. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/

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. Juvenile in Moorea, French Polynesia and Female in Pulau Redang, Malaysia shown.

Genus Paracanthurus

Paracanthurus hepatus (Linnaeus 1766), the (Pacific) Yellow-Tailed Blue, Palette, Regal, or Hepatus Tang. Indo-Pacific; East Africa to the Line Islands. Found in loose aggregations near Pocillopora corals in which they dive into to hide. To a foot long in the wild, rarely more than half that in captivity. A zooplankton feeder principally, feeding on microalgae secondarily. 

Genus Zebrasoma

Zebrasoma scopas (Cuvier 1829), the Brown or better, Two-Tone Sailfin Tang. The former common name can be a bit of a misnomer; I have seen scopas specimens as brightly yellow as a flavescens and as dark as a rostratum. As young they're different still, with light colored fronts grading to dark variable spots and lines. Occasional "dirty" or mixed-color crosses between the brown and Z. flavescens are encountered along their contiguous distributions. Widely ranging in the Indo-Pacific. Shown: Two juveniles in the (tiny one inch one in Australia, larger in the Maldives), and a mid-adult in captivity to show color range.

Zebrasoma veliferum (Bloch 1795), the Pacific Sailfin Tang. Collected out of the Philippines and Indonesia, though better out of Hawaii, Ceylon and other places in the eastern Pacific. Some call this THE Sailfin tang for it's gorgeous flowing dorsal and anal finnage; these especially over-sized in appearance when young. Here are two and four inch juveniles in Fiji and a larger (10") individual in Hawai'i. As mentioned above D. desjardinii is considered a junior synonym of this species currently.
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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