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Related FAQs: Lipstick Tangs 1, Lipstick Tangs 2, Lipstick Tang Identification, Lipstick Tang Behavior, Lipstick Tang Compatibility, Lipstick Tang Selection, Lipstick Tang Systems, Lipstick Tang Feeding, Lipstick Tang Disease, Lipstick Tang Reproduction, & & Naso Tangs, Naso Tangs 2Naso Tangs 3, Naso ID, Naso Behavior, Naso Compatibility, Naso Selection, Naso Systems, Naso Feeding, Naso Disease, Naso Reproduction, Surgeons In General, Tang ID, Tang Behavior, Compatibility, Systems, Feeding, Disease,

Related Articles: Naso Genus Tangs, Surgeon Family, Acanthuridae, Ctenochaetus, Paracanthurus, Zebrasoma

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Naso vlamingii, a Whopper of a Tang


Bob Fenner

Silhouettes out on a shark dive in S. Fiji. RobB pic.

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

Few folks could name all six genera that make up the aquarium-rich family Acanthuridae; yet the Doctor- Surgeonfishes are amongst the most recognized pet, reef-sourced food and diver-recognized fishes on our planet. More familiar are the genera of Sailfin (Zebrasoma); Comb-tooth (Ctenochaetus) and several Acanthurus species; with the genus Naso almost forgotten other than THE Lipstick Tang (N. lituratus, in the Pacific and N. elegans in the Indian Ocean, Red Sea). In more recent years there has been an awakening of a few other “nosed” Tangs, with Vlaming’s Unicornfish, aka the Bignose Tang or more colloquially, the Vlamingii being next in popularity.

            Naso vlamingii does have a bunch going for it as an aquarium species; though it shares the same requisite needs as THE Naso; adequate space in terms of tank length and décor arrangement; plenty of algal complement in its regular feedings, and a need to take care in selecting tankmates and their order of introduction. These are all very simple requirements to meet; but alas, there continue to be many specimens loss due to not abiding by them.

Distribution, Size: Vlaming’s Tang occurs throughout the tropical to sub-tropical Indo-Pacific; from East Africa to the Galapagos; S. Japan to southern Great Barrier Reef in Australia; throughout Micronesia, Noumea and Polynesia’s Tuamotu Islands.  The species habits upper reef slopes along deep drop-offs (where water movement is brisk); feeding on Zooplankton that rises up with under-currents.

            In the wild this fish attains some 60 cm. /24 inches in fisheries length; in captivity, about half this size.



            Naso vlamingii can be aggressive toward its own kind and other Tangs, particularly other members of its own genus. For the most part other fish species are left alone, as are corals, sessile invertebrates; most all with the exception of macrophytes (larger, palatable marine algae). The species is mighty fine in FOWLR to full-blown reef set-ups.

            There are some reports of Vlamingii tangs chewing on fleshy corals; and these are almost due to either behavioral issues brought on by being placed in too small a system or a lack of proper feeding. Moving the fish to bigger quarters and adding palatable foods on a more frequent basis almost always cure these anomalous problems.



Size Matters: Avoid too small (under 3”) and too large (over 6”) specimens, unless the latter have been raised in captivity. Mid-size, three- five overall inch specimens do best in terms of collection, handling, shipping; and adapting to captive conditions; including acceptance of various commercially available types of foods.

Two juveniles of about five inches overall length; in captivity. Yes; when young they’re not great beauties; being olive drab with blue spotting. With growth, adults develop prominent convex-rounded snouts and longer unpaired fins; as well as the bright blue nasal band.



Source: Vlaming’s is collected for the trade mainly out of Indonesia and the Philippines. The better specimens are had out of Bali and the Solomons, though the latter may come at a premium price.

Bruises and Split Fins: Aren’t such a deterrent to my purchasing Tangs… they do get finger-marked through handling, and fin spines, their caudal peduncle tangs do get hung up on nets, but these insults usually heal without incident.

Feeding: My usual plug for making sure the specimen you’re interested in is feeding, the types/kinds of foods you intend to proffer. IF it isn’t eating, leave it. IF you must have that one; put a deposit down to hold it and return some days later to see the feeding demonstration yet again.


One to A Tank Unless: Naso vlamingii is usually found singly or in a pair, though they do form up aggregations of a few individuals at times during day-feeding times. This is best labeled a semi-aggressive fish, territorial toward members of its own kind and sometimes other Acanthurids, Rabbitfishes (Siganids)….  IF you’ve got a system of several hundred to thousands of gallons, you might well keep a pair or more together; but if yours is a mere few hundreds of gallons, best to stick with one specimen; and place it last or toward last in your livestocking.



Big, bigger, biggest is best. Some folks suggest that you can/could keep a Vlamingi in a six foot long, two foot wide… nominal 180 gallon system; others are more honest and state that a 300 gallon, eight or ten foot length tank should be the minimum. Whatever you do, do NOT fall prey to the false belief that you can jam this fish in anything smaller; even “just for now”.  This fish can and should grow a few to several inches per year; and will perish unhappily way ahead of its time if confined too small a space.

Décor arrangement is important as well; a few free-standing rock et al. bommies are fine, but you really want to provide a clear round-about swimming area for this fish to zoom back and forth during the daylight hours. Being scrunched in will lead to anomalous behavior… including physical trauma and possibly jumping (leaping out) instances.

Water movement should in a word be vigorous… ten, twenty turns or more per hour best in directed streams are necessary for swimming resistance, engendering high dissolved oxygen, low carbon dioxide saturations, as well as moving along this fish’s copious waste production.


An adult male in Mabul, Sabah, Malaysia. Gorgeous, eh? You want yours to look this good… meet its needs and yours will.



A female of about a foot length in Wakatobi, S. Sulawesi, Indonesia



            Some petfish writers state this fish is largely herbivorous. It is not and will suffer for lack of real nutrition if not offered meaty fare on a regular basis. My best advice in meeting its needs is to utilize a good, complete nutritious, floating pelleted staple; and augment this with algal foods or fresh, palatable macro-algae period; no terrestrial greens need apply (they’re not digestible and often have pollutants and pesticides). Avoid flake foods and fall-apart frozen prepared brands. These prove to be ready polluters more often than not in large systems.

            Frequency of feeding should be a minimum of twice daily; more often the better. If it were up to me; I’d supply the pelleted via an automated dispenser several times a day during “light” hours (Tangs like most reef fishes lie on the bottom at night, avoiding predators).



            Environmentally causes are the category killer for sources of mortality with Tangs period.  Putting this species in just too small a volume most notably is an issue; psychologically challenging the fish as well as presenting metabolite build-up issues. Don’t make the mistake of “I’ll get a bigger system later” with this fish. I’ve seen specimens grow six inches in a year… they need to start out in VERY large systems.

Beware of ignoring BGA/Cyanobacteria proliferation. Not only is this indicative of sliding, worsening water quality, but the BGA itself is toxic; some species very much so.

            Neuromast destruction, aka Head and Lateral Line Erosion is a common complaint with this Naso species; directly or indirectly due to avitaminoses, pollution, with the Protozoan Octomita (Hexamita) a latter involvement; but requiring medicine use if delayed. Otherwise, the usual approaches to counteracting the pitting; augmenting foods and possibly the water with HUFAs, Vitamins…. Administering iodide-ate to the system; doing your best to assure optimized and stable water conditions… is the way to go.

            Tangs are amongst the most highly susceptible family of marine fishes to Protozoan infestations like Crypt and Velvet; and unfortunately are intolerant of copper compounds as treatments. There are a few alternative approaches (moving hosts, vacuuming substrate, hyposalinity, pH adjusted dips/baths with or w/o formalin…) but I encourage you to study regarding and use a quinine compound. Chloroquine Phosphate in particular is useful for these reef disease scourges.


A profile of a mail specimen in Sipadan, Sabah, Malaysia. Males do flash brilliant with and bolder blue markings at times as a form of communication; mainly with members of their own species.



Of the other eighteen species (21 total) of Naso species, there are not many others used in our interest. N. brevirostris (Short-Nose), N. caesius (the Gray), N. unicornis (the Blue-Spine) are seen on an occasional bases; the other get way too large (most more than two feet) and are too somber (gray mostly) to be of much interest in the ornamental trade. The Vlamingi is well-worth considering if you have the space to accommodate a specimen. Feed it well; keep the water clean, and you can look forward to a spectacular centerpiece specimen for years to come.

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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