Tangs or Surgeonfish
Tangs or Surgeonfish have long been a hobby favorite, and as often as not, a heartbreak as well. A complete breakdown on all the different Genera of tangs and surgeonfish is beyond the scope of this article, but the information is widely available if you look. What I will attempt to do here is give you several easy tips to increase your success rate, and help you help your customers. The five main Genera (Acanthurus, Ctenochaetus, Naso, Paracanthurus, Zebrasoma) all have different tricks that will help you keep them in the aquarium.
Acanthurids tend to live in and require strong water flow to thrive. Too often these fish are placed in large fish only displays with moderate to slow water movement, and they waste away and die. Many of these species are found in and around the reef top or crest. They NEED strong water movement to survive. They tend to be very active fish with a high demand for food, both algae based and a more meaty fare as well. Mysis shrimp is a great food for these guys. Acanthurid tangs tend to be more aggressive than members of the other common Genera so plan accordingly when you stock your tank.
Ctenochaetus, commonly called bristle tooth tangs have flattened mouths and teeth designed for scraping rocks clean of algae. These are great cleaners of the home aquarium and are often used as such. The main issue with Ctenochaetids is starvation. They will clean the rock work of the tank, but they do need suitable supplemental feeding as well. They can often be underfed in the average reef tank, luckily they will readily accept most fish food. They tend to be less aggressive than many other tangs/surgeonfish and often get along well in the home aquarium.
Naso, includes the Common Naso Tangs, the Vlamingi Tang, and several other types of unicorn tangs. All of these grow LARGE (feet not inches) and tend to be aggressive eaters and passive inhabitants of the home aquarium. They will often be quite shy and even bullied in the home aquarium, despite the fact that they are often the largest fish in the tank. Once they settle in and start eating they are very hardy fish. They will readily eat just about anything, but have a special interest in brown leafy algae. They do tend to put a strain on your filter system due to their appetites, but it you monitor your water quality this should keep you from maintaining Naso tangs for years and years.
Paracanthurus has only one species, Dory. She of course has many, many more names, but no matter what you call her she is a beauty. Blue Tangs have several well documented problems. The often get paper thin and die, or repeatedly get ich and die. Both of these problems are easy to solve and prevent in the first place. First of all blue tangs, especially small blue tangs eat lots of zooplankton in the wild. The solution is to offer them meaty frozen food, and offer it often. You cannot overfeed them, as they appear to have a small blackhole in their stomach. The ich is also easily prevented by using a properly maintained UV sterilizer on your tank, yes even your reef tank, it will harm nothing.
The benefits in using a sterilizer are far too great to be ignored, despite the up front cost, the savings more than pay for themselves. If your tank already has ich, or somehow manages to get it, copper sulfate is an effective treatment. It needs to be monitored closely, and never used in an invertebrate tank, but it is effective. Tangs that get ich in the reef system, then get “cured” are usually carriers. This is one of the main reasons for the common “only the new fish died” complaints of customers. The old fish have already survived the disease, but the new fish haven’t. Ich does not always come in a super easy to see large white spots form. Look closely at the fins, and the sides of the fish in profile you will see it.
Zebrasoma tangs are easily the most popular of the Genera. These are the various “sailfin types, scopas, sailfin, desy, yellow, and purple tangs. They all tend to be great eaters of fleshy green algae. Despite the fact that they all school in the wild, keeping a school in your tank (unless it is 500 gallons +) is not a great idea. They are aggressive with each other and related species, they do get sick if stressed out, and they do get skinny because they are underfed. Tangs are grazers- they are built to eat nearly constantly throughout the day. Piling lots of them in one tank is asking for trouble. That having been said they do tend to be less aggressive than the Acanthurids, and will often get along with members of the other Genera in a suitably sized aquarium. Give them plenty of food and enjoy the show.
Article by Brian Wagner