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Related FAQs: Achilles Tangs, Achilles Tangs 2, & FAQs on: Achilles Tangs Identification, Achilles Tangs Behavior, Achilles Tangs Compatibility, Achilles Tangs Selection, Achilles Tangs Systems, Achilles Tangs Feeding, Achilles Tangs Disease, Achilles Tangs Reproduction, AcanthurusAcanthurus Tangs 2Acanthurus Tangs 3, Surgeons In General, Tang ID, Selection, Tang Behavior, Compatibility, Systems, Feeding, Disease,

Related Articles Surgeonfishes/Tangs/Doctorfishes and Marine Aquariums, by Bob Fenner, species of Acanthurus: A. sohal, A. nigricans & A. japonicus,  

An Achilles in More Than One Sense:
 The Tang, Acanthurus achilles



Bob Fenner

Surgeonfishes: Tangs for  Marine
Diversity, Selection & Care

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

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Amongst the more popular Tangs, the Achilles historically rate low on the scale of captive survival; though decidedly higher than the Powder Blue (Acanthurus leucosternon) and Powder Brown (A. nigricans, nee glaucopareius). Most losses can be avoided by following the simple suggestions offered here: Secure an initially healthy specimen; place it in an established system of size, provide adequate circulation and filtration, algal foods, and avoid dangerous medicine exposure.

            Let’s elaborate on these tenets and more here.


Acanthurus. achilles Shaw 1803, Achilles tang. Widely distributed from Hawaii westward through Micronesia and Melanesia, an area called Oceania (also reported from Mexico's Baja tip). Achilles tangs are encountered on shallow reef slopes in areas of high turbulence, usually feeding solitarily on algae, though may "pair up" as juveniles and occasionally are found in larger shoal associations.

A juvenile and adult Achilles out in Hawai’i. This is the best source locale for this species; the collectors being gentle in their handling and shipping generally; and the transit times being short to the US mainland.



    The picking out of specimens is a critical area with this species. MANY individuals are doomed... from incipient damage from collection, the vagaries of handling, transport... and outright stress. One very surprising quality of this species is its "soft-bodied-ness"... Once you've physically handled one, you'll agree that this fish is "soft" to the touch... much more so than other Acanthurids... this trait works to their disadvantage in being caught in the wild. Almost all Achilles are collected with the use of "fence nets"... lengths of two dimensional netting that are held up with small floats and down on the bottom with weighting... fishes are driven off a prospective collecting area, where they will return to in short order... and driven into these transparent walls... and subsequently hand-netted and placed via the hand nets into collecting buckets for holding and decompression... being pulled to the surface slowly. The process of hand-netting and transfer is a crucial time for Achilles... as they are often "pinched" in the net, and/or the hand of the collector in transfer... The other general means of collecting, especially larger (make that "too-large") specimens is to "pick them up" at night while they are lying down "sleeping" on the bottom. This is accomplished with hand netting and hands again... All this touching wreaks havoc with this fish's slime coating, soft skin and body musculature... VERY often seen as discoloring to damage on their flanks... Sometimes you can even make out the fingers on one side, the thumb print on the other of a fish! This bit of observation is proffered to bring home the point that you want to:

Care should be taken if/when you must net and handle your Achilles. As mentioned above, this species is “soft-bodied” and easily bruised. One often sees “finger marks” on newly imported individuals. These blemishes usually heal in time with good care, on their own accord.

1) Look for less to least damaged specimens; ones with little to no markings on them.

2) Select a specimen of appropriate size... something twixt 3.5 to 4.5 inches overall length... Smaller specimens die easily and larger ones (usually caught at night) get beat too much and rarely adapt to captive conditions.

3) Don't buy it too early, nor too late. Recently arrived specimens should be left at your dealers for a few days to assure they will survive (most are lost the first day or two), and to assess how much damage it has encountered... Most markings will show in a day... and show improvement or worsening in a day or two following... Specimens that have been at shops that utilize copper prophylactically (MANY do) are often the cause of this and some other fish groups ultimate demise... though chronic poisoning and loss of needed intestinal microbial fauna. So... look for an Achilles that has been on hand for a few days, but no more than two weeks.

4) Some incidental damage is to be expected... and light bruising, some torn fin membranes are not a big deal, and will very likely heal in a matter of days to weeks. One type of injury though excludes purchase, and this is damage to the mouth. Such apparent rubbing almost always results in the loss of the specimen from not-feeding.

5) Look for the quality of "brightness"... that the specimen is out and about, picking at potential foods, AND is cognizant of its tankmates and your presence. Spaced-out individuals should be avoided.

6) To prophylactically dip/bath the specimen at the very least... If you can't be persuaded to quarantine it for a few weeks to allow it to rest up, adapt to captivity, and to grant you time to observe if it is hosting a hyper-infective state of Crypt and/or Velvet.


            As alluded to above, this fish needs high, consistent dissolved oxygen and current to swim against; as well as low accumulated nutrient presence ((5-10 NO3 ppm maximum). Take a look at the species video and still images on the Net. It’s mostly found near drop offs and reef slopes; areas of high water movement.


            Achilles Tangs are best kept not only one to a tank, but as the only Tang (or Rabbitfish) to a system. Nor do they appreciate competing algae eaters, like some Damsels and Blennies that will graze their turf.


            Acanthurus achilles is an algal grazer par excellence, spending all daylight hours searching and scraping palatable micro to smaller macro green and red algae from hard substrates. Do provide these daily along with a completely nutritious pelleted food of small size.



    Like its namesake, this Achilles has much going for it... Bold beauty, continuous swimming behavior, a live and let live attitude and one in which it can hold its own... What it lacks is toughness in its collection and subsequent handling, a need for large, well-established quarters, and care in picking out an initially healthy specimen, and quarantining/resting it and some medium attention in its feeding... Are you willing to provide these? If not, you're well-advised to look to other members of this genus, more suitable Acanthurids period.

Surgeonfishes: Tangs for  Marine
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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