16 Tang and Surgeonfish Species to Know

Information on Different Species of Tang and Surgeonfish

Powder-blue surgeonfish (Acanthurus leucosternon)
Georgette Douwma / Getty Images

Acanthuridae is a family of marine fishes that include surgeonfish, tangs and unicornfish. These are among the most popular saltwater aquarium fish due to their beauty, generally non-offensive behavior towards other fish species, and forgiving requirements. The name surgeonfish comes from the scalpel-sharp bony protrusion in each side of the base of the tail of these fish (the meaning of Acanthurus is Spiny-tail). Here are short profiles of some of the most popular Tangs and Surgeonfish, including scientific name, common names, distribution, maximum size, characteristics, compatibility, diet and feeding, minimum tank size, and reef tank suitability.

  • 01 of 16

    Achilles Tang

    An Achilles tang fish in the ocean

    dpruter / Getty Images

    One of the more demanding fish of the Acanthuridae Family, the Achilles Tang (Acanthurus achilles) requires much attention. It is highly susceptible to contracting Cryptocaryon protozoa and can have problems with HLLE. It can be aggressive towards other tangs, especially those of its own kind. These fish may need to be kept as the only tang in the tank. It naturally occurs in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean and grows up to 10 inches long. You will need a 120 gallon aquarium or larger for this beauty.

  • 02 of 16

    Black Longnose Tang

    The rare Black Longnose Tang (Zebrasoma rostratum) is quite distinctive, with a solid black body, black eyes, long snout, broad sail-like fins, and white razor-like spines located on both sides of the caudal peduncle. It ranges in the South Pacific and grows to 10 inches long, so needs a large aquarium of 120 gallons or more.

  • 03 of 16

    Chevron Tang

    The juvenile stage of the Chevron Tang (Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis) is very colorful. However, once in the adult stage, the red and purple colors fade, and it becomes dark brown, almost black, with the sides of the body and head marked by many fine, horizontal, yellowish-gray lines. Because the adult stage of the Chevron Tang is similar in appearance to that of a Kole (Yellow-Eye Surgeonfish) Tang, it is referred to as the Hawaiian Black Kole. It comes from the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii, Micronesia and the Pitcairn Island. It grows to 10 inches long and should be kept in a large aquarium as the only tang.

  • 04 of 16

    Clown Surgeonfish

    A clown surgeonfish in the ocean

    Dave Lonsdale / flickr / CC By 2.0

    The Clown Surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus) prefers to inhabit the oxygen-and marine algae-rich shallower waters of the Indo-Pacific reefs. Part of the Surgeonfish Family, it has all that family's typical traits, such as the characteristic sharp razor-like spur or spine on the caudal peduncle. It does not get along well with other fish of the same or similar species. The Clown Surgeonfish grows up to 14 inches long so needs plenty of open room to move around but also requires ample cover for hiding. It is only recommended for 180 gallon aquariums or larger.

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  • 05 of 16

    Convict Tang

    A school of convict tang fish

    Federica Grassi / Getty Images

    Convict Tangs (Acanthurus triostegus) also known as the Hawaiian Manini, are schooling fish and are found in the shallower oxygen-enriched waters of the Indo-Pacific reefs, where fine filamentous algae are abundant. This is in areas where there is little coral but has lots of rocks or stones that allow the algae to grow well with good sunlight exposure. They nibble the algae directly off the rocks. They are smaller tangs, growing to 8 inches and can be kept in 100 gallons or larger aquariums.

  • 06 of 16

    Goldrim Tang

    The Goldrim Tang (Acanthurus nigricans) is a very shy fish, but once acclimated to its surroundings it becomes very active. It is best kept alone. If you insist on having more than one of these fish, they should only be kept in a very large aquarium with ample cover, and not be kept with other more aggressive Acanthurus species. They are from the Pacific Ocean and grow to 8 inches in length.

  • 07 of 16

    Hybrid Achilles-Goldrim Tang

    Restricted to Hawaiian waters, this fish is the result of a very rare quirk of nature where an Achilles Tang (Acanthurus achilles) and a Goldrim Tang (Acanthurus nigricans) have interbred during conception. It is one of the few reef fishes in Hawaiian waters known to hybridize. The Goldrim Tang is not common in Hawaiian waters, and the Achilles is endemic to them. It may reach 8-10 inches in size.

  • 08 of 16

    Kole Tang

    The Kole Tang (Ctenochaetus strigosus) is a fantastic algae consumer. It also makes a good choice when it comes to compatibility with other more docile, non-related species. It only gets 6 inches long so can be kept in 70 gallon aquariums. It is from the Indo-Pacific region.

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  • 09 of 16

    Naso Tang

    The Naso Tang (Naso lituratus) is a herbivore, with a preference for brown macroalgae. Some specimens may be reluctant to eat anything else, but for the most part, this species will usually accept the basic diet for Tangs & Surgeonfishes. On rare occasions, an individual may pick at large-polyp corals. It is a very large tang and grows to 18 inches in the Pacific Ocean, so will need a 300 gallon aquarium or larger.

  • 10 of 16

    Orange Shoulder Tang

    Because of its large size (up to 14 inches) and constant roaming nature, the minimum aquarium size suggested for the Orange Shoulder Tang (Acanthurus olivaceus) is 150 gallons. As long as the aquarium is large enough, a juvenile and an adult may be kept together. It is generally compatible with other non-aggressive tank mates, but if plans are to keep this species with other Surgeonfishes, it is recommended to add this fish first, or if of the same species, place them in the aquarium at the same time. It comes from the Indo-Pacific Ocean.

  • 11 of 16

    Pacific Blue Tang

    Most often recognized as Dory from the movie Finding Nemo, the Pacific Blue Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) is a popular choice for aquariums around the world. Unlike most tangs or surgeonfishes that require a steady diet of algae, the Pacific Blue Tang should also be fed meaty fares to satisfy its zooplankton dietary needs. It grows up to 12 inches long and needs a 180-gallon aquarium.

  • 12 of 16

    Powder Blue Tang

    Powder-blue surgeonfish (Acanthurus leucosternon)
    Georgette Douwma / Getty Images

    The Powder Blue Tang (Acanthurus leucosternon) is a very popular fish with aquarists, but one that is not easy to care for. It is highly susceptible to contracting Cryptocaryon and can have problems with HLLE. It can be aggressive toward other surgeonfishes, particularly those of the same shapes and colors. It grows to 9 inches long and needs a 90-gallon aquarium or larger. It is from the Indian Ocean.

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  • 13 of 16

    Powder Brown Tang

    The Powder Brown Tang (Acanthurus japonicus) is primarily a herbivore that will graze on filamentous micro and some types of smaller fleshy macroalgae. It should be fed a diet of frozen and dried fares suitable for herbivores that contain marine algae and Spirulina (blue-green algae). Zucchini, broccoli, leaf lettuce, and nori (dried seaweed) can be offered to supplement its diet. The Powder Brown Tang should be fed at least 3 times a day. It is from the Indo-Pacific area around Japan to Taiwan and grows to 8 inches.

  • 14 of 16

    Sailfin Tang

    The Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum) adjusts well to aquarium life, adapting easily to basic tank fed foods like flake food, shrimp, and nori (sheets of dried kelp), just to name a few. They will eat just about anything, but being more of a herbivore, they prefer greens. They come from the Indo-Pacific areas and grow up to 15 inches long, so need 150 gallons or larger aquariums.

  • 15 of 16

    Unicorn Tang

    The distribution of the Unicorn Tang (Naso unicornis) extends from Hawaii southward to central Polynesia, westward through Micronesia and Melanesia, through the East Indies, and across the Indian Ocean to the coast of Africa and the Red Sea. It is very large and can grow to 28 inches long.

  • 16 of 16

    Yellow Tang

    The popular Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) is a herbivore, grazing on algae and other plant life. It is best kept in an aquarium that has good algae growth, where in turn they earn their keep by helping to keep the algae growth cropped. It will feed on nori (dried or roasted seaweed), other green vegetable matter, and vitamin-enriched flakes, but may nibble at dried shrimp and other meaty fares as well. They grow to 8 inches in length. They are found around the Hawaiian islands.

Although Tangs and Surgeonfish are certainly beautiful and popular marine fishes, they require proper feeding and large aquariums. Keeping one specimen in an aquarium with other types of fish is often the best approach.