Naso Tang

Meet the Shy, Beautiful Naso Tang

Bluespine Unicornfish (Naso unicornis)
Federica Grassi / Getty Images

Naso Tang are large, beautiful, and generally peaceful Surgeonfish that make a good addition to a reef tank. These unusual-looking fish are sociable and are even willing to eat out of their owner's hand; they're also fun to watch as they are very active. Naso Tang are best suited for a very large tank and do need the care of a moderately experienced aquarium owner.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Naso Tang, Clown Surgeonfish, Liturate Surgeonfish, Lipstick Tang, Orangespine Unicornfish

Scientific Name: Naso lituratus

Adult Size: Up to 18 inches

Life Expectancy: 8 years or more


Family Acanthuridae
Origin Central and western Pacific
Social Peaceful except with other Surgeonfish
Tank Level All levels
Minimum Tank Size 135 gallons for full grown fish
Diet Herbivore
Breeding Pair spawners (in the wild)
Care Intermediate
pH 8.1–8.4
Temperature 75–79 degrees Fahrenheit (24–26 degrees Celsius).

Colorings and Markings

The body of this fish is light to dark gray. It has a patch of bright yellow on the forehead with a yellow accented line that extends from below the eye down to behind the mouth. Its lips are orange. The dorsal fin is blue at the base, then black, and then ends with a white band along the outer margin. The anal fin is brownish-orange at the base, turning to a brighter orange, with the outer margin trimmed in white. The tail has a crescent-shaped border that is white inside, changing to a pale yellow color on the outside edge. The male has long, streamer pennants that extend off the top and bottom tips of the tail. The Naso Tang is able to change color depending on their environment or mood. For example, an excited or frightened Naso Tang can turn black with gray patches. 

Another name for Naso Tang is Orangespine Unicornfish, and it's easy to see where the name comes from. Naso Tang has scalpel-like spines near their tails; the spines are surrounded by orange coloring. These spines are extremely sharp and carry a toxin that can cause severe pain in human beings (and death to small aquatic creatures). To avoid interaction with these spines, it's best to use a net with care or to use a bag rather than a net to avoid injuring the fish.

Origin and Distribution

Naso Tang may be found throughout the central and western Pacific in locations including Hawaii, Japan, Tuamotu, and the Marquesas. A similar fish, the Blonde Naso Tang, lives in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Naso Tangs may be found alone, in groups, or in pairs, at depths of 16-295 feet. They frequent coral reefs and are usually found swimming above coral rocks among reef flats and slopes. 


Once adjusted to aquarium life, Naso Tangs have great personalities and can be trained to eat food right out of your hands. It is one of the more aggressive Surgeonfish species when it comes to territorial disputes with other Surgeonfishes, especially of its own kind, but generally will get along with other fish tank mates and invertebrates. It is an interesting trait that they will attack each other, considering that they do congregate in small groups or schools in the wild.

Naso Tang Habitat and Care

The Naso Tang is a moderately easy fish to care for, as long as it is a specimen that is already eating well when you buy it, you give it plenty of room, and provide it with ample macroalgae growth for grazing on. This fish is very majestic looking and definitely has personality, plus!

When you introduce your Naso Tang to its new home, it is likely to be shy and nervous. It may take a little time for it to adjust, and during that time it may be very picky about its food. If that's the case, be sure it has a live rock to graze on and consider feeding it lettuce and brine shrimp to be sure it's receiving enough nutrition. 

This species is an active swimmer and is always on the move. A large tank is a key to keeping it happy and healthy, as is a good filter, sufficient water turbulence, and plenty of oxygen. Your Naso Tang is likely to swim back and forth all day long; if it is lethargic there's a good chance your pet is having health issues. Naso Tang does not have a mucus barrier on their bodies, and they are thus relatively susceptible to disorders including Marine Ich and Marine Velvet, and excellent nutrition can help protect them from these problems. Vitamin supplements, and particularly vitamin C, can help your pet to avoid infection. If your Naso Tang does develop Ich or another disease, they can usually be treated easily with copper drugs.

Wild Naso Tang often has the benefit of a cleaner wrasse that removes parasites from its body. While these particular Wrasse doesn't make good pets, Neon Gobies or cleaner shrimp are a good substitute and can help your Naso Tang stay healthy.

Naso Tang Diet 

This fish is a herbivore, with a diet preference for brown macroalgae (in the wild they prefer to munch on Sargassum and Dictyota). Some specimens may be reluctant to eat anything else, but for the most part, this species will usually accept the basic tank fed diet for Tangs & Surgeonfishes. On rare occasions, an individual may pick at large-polyped corals. The Naso Tang will also eat Mysis Shrimp and other meaty fares if it is offered to it, particularly if it sees other fish eating it.

Sexual Differences

Only male Naso Tang have trailing caudal streamers.

Breeding the Naso Tang

Naso Tang are pair spawners. Male/female couple swim to the surface together; the female releases her eggs and the male fertilizes them. The fertile eggs float along the surface of the ocean, carrying the larvae far and wide. To date, there are no reports of Naso Tang breeding in a home aquarium, though they will sometimes breed in captivity. 

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

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Otherwise, check out all of our other saltwater fish breed profiles.