Surgeonfish – Origin, Weird Behaviors, 5 Types And Caring For Them


Last updated on July 21st, 2022 at 05:50 pm

Surgeonfish, also called the tang, has about 75 types of thin, deep-bodied, tropical marine fishes from the family of Acanthuridae (order Perciformes).

Surgeonfish is small-scaled, with one dorsal fin and a single or more distinct, sharp spines that lie on both sides of the tail base and can give deep cuts.

The spines, which look like a surgeon’s scalpel, might be either fixed in one place or hinged at the rear so they can be directed forward and opened outward.

ocean surgeonfish

Surgeonfishes are primarily algae eaters. They develop from a transparent larva (acronurus) and may change significantly in form or color. Their optimum length usually does not go beyond 50 cm (20 inches).

Species consist of the yellow surgeon, or yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), an Indo-Pacific types about 20 cm (8 inches) long and colored either intense yellow or deep brown; the blue tang (Acanthurus coeruleus), an Atlantic and Caribbean fish, yellow when young but more or less blue when they grow up; and the manini (A. triostegus sandvicensis), a type fish that is common in Hawaii.

Most of the species of reef-dwelling fishes are named “surgeonfish” because they have erectile, scalpel-like, and dangerously sharp spines on either side of the caudal peduncle, and the majority of them are vibrantly colored, they are of the family of Acanthuridae.

Origin of the Surgeonfish

The name “surgeonfish” is stemmed from their having erectable razor-sharp spines. These ‘scalpels’ lie at the base of their bodies just in front of the tail fin. Tangs are very quick and swim in an elegant fashion, dipping in and out of the decor, nibbling on small morsels of algae.

But often they can be territorial. Their spines are extremely sharp and can cut like a knife, and these razor-wielding fish are very proficient with their swords. With a quick twist of their tail these swords become formidable weapons.


Tangs are frequently good community fish, terrific in a reef, and many varieties of Surgeonfish can be kept together. These fish rapidly become familiar with their new house and keeper, coming forward for foods and some has actually even been trained to allow a little petting. Simply be really mindful when cleaning up the tank, and especially when there is a need to capture/net them.

The list of saltwater tangs below includes lots of fish tank types. Each fish guide has photos to assist with saltwater fish recognition, in addition to in-depth surgeonfish information. Read about each species to find out about its size, adaptability, habits, diet plan, and especially compatibility with its own species along with any other types to assist in picking your pet fish.

Where are surgeonfish discovered?


The most famous surgeonfish unquestionably is the palette surgeonfish also called the blue tang. Grown-ups and kids can name it Dory, the memorable yet absent-minded partner in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”.

Black Clownfish 'Amphiprion Ocellaris'

The best area to find scheme surgeonfish while snorkeling is the Western Indian Ocean (Zanzibar, Coromos, Madagascar, and Seychelles) and the Great Barrier Reef.

The scheme surgeonfish, aka Dory, has become one of the most iconic reef fish. Here, spotted in Anse Patate, Seychelles.

You’re more than likely to spot the convict surgeonfish with its black vertical stripes, extremely common from Eastern Africa to the Pacific area. In Hawaii, the yellow tang is unmissable, while the razor surgeonfish can be quickly found in the eastern Pacific, including the Galápagos Islands.

Just 3 surgeonfish species live in the Caribbean, including the Atlantic blue tang that can be seen at a lot of areas.

Surgeonfish Facts

The surgeonfish belong to the Acanthuridae family. They are a really ancient fish, with fossils going back more than 50 million years to the Tertiary duration (Eocene). These types are plainly distinguished from other fish by the spine or spines located on each side of the caudal peduncle, the base of the tail fin.

These spines are either foldable or fixed. They are blade-like and rather sharp, similar to a scalpel.

As a group, they are all called Surgeonfish and Saltwater Tangs. The name ‘surgeonfish’ is derived from their special scalpel-like spines. The name ‘tang’ is stemmed from the German word ‘Seetang’ which indicates ‘seaweed’ and associates with their feeding practices.

Numerous different groups within this family are also known as Unicornfish, Sailfin Tang, and Bristletooth or Combtooth Tangs.

The popular ‘unicornfish’ are from the Naso genus. Since some of the species have a horn-like projection on the forehead, they are called the Unicornfish.

The term ‘sailfin tang’ is frequently applied to the popular species in the Zebrasoma genus. The Ctenochaetus genus is often described as ‘bristletooth’ or ‘combtooth’ tangs, due to their nature of feeding. Atlantic types from both the Acanthurus and Prionurus genera are in some cases referred to as doctorfish tang.

Habitat Of The Surgeonfish

Saltwater tangs are discovered in all the tropical seas of the world, with the exception of the Mediterranean. Most are found in reasonably shallow waters, particularly where the water is clear and the rock, debris, or dead corals are exposed to excellent sunshine giving excellent algae growth.

Coastal waters, estuaries and even harbors for the young are prime locations for these fish. A number of these surgeonfish are small enough for a house aquarium.

Species that populate the open ocean are fewer but are found in larger numbers. The majority of these surgeonfish get rather big with some species growing to nearly 40 inches (101 cm). These bigger fish are not appropriate for a house aquarium but will typically be featured in public fish tanks.

Surgeonfish typically live in big schools or in sets. They mostly consume plant matter with most grazing on the reef, however will likewise pick at the detritus, and there are some that feed primarily on zooplankton. In the evening they sleep in little caverns or crevices in the reef.

Types of Surgeonfish


The Acanthuridae family of surgeonfish includes 6 genera and about 82 species. A lot of these species are relatively little growing in between 6 to 16 inches (15 – 40 cm) in length. However, some species in the Acanthurus, Prionurus, Naso genera can grow larger.

Acanthurus Triostegus (Convict Tang)

Among the largest of this household is the Whitemargin Unicornfish Naso annulatus, which reaches 39.4 (100 cm) in length. The spinal columns on the caudal are the distinguishing characteristics that Ichthyologists utilize to place each member into their appropriate sub-family and tribe.

Tang Fish Tank Species

Saltwater Tangs are active, very curious, and really personable fish. They make excellent aquarium occupants as they are peaceful and get along well with a wide range of other fishes. They are also voracious algae eaters, making them outstanding prospects for a reef environment.

A number of reasonably little surgeonfish are among the hardiest of the marine aquarium fish. There are five main genera of Surgeonfish suitable for the fish tank. The Prionurus genus is the only one of the 6 that is rarely offered for house fish tanks.

  • Acanthurus – The genus Acanthurus presently consists of 38 known types, which is close to half of the Surgeonfish types. This genus has the largest variety of types of all six genera in the Acanthuridae family, and they are discovered in all 3 oceans. Many of these species are extremely colorful, making them popular aquarium occupants.
  • Ctenochaetus – The genus Ctenochaetus consists of 9 species. They are often described as the ‘Bristletooth’ or ‘Combtooth’ Tang, due to their nature of feeding. They have several rows of little flexible comb-like teeth (approximately 30 teeth) in addition to a protrusive pouting mouth. These teeth are adjusted for lifting and sorting through various kinds of algae and detrital material off of rocks, sand, and other surface areas and then they use their mouth to draw the food up.In the fish tank, you will often see little lip marks on the glass where algae used to be from this feeding behavior. Unlike many of the other tangs of the Acanthuridae family who possess 9 dorsal spinal columns, the Ctenochaetus has just 8 dorsal spinal columns (the very first one being very little).The most popular and offered species in this genus are the Yellow-eyed Tang Ctenochaetus strigosus and the Chevron Tang Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis. Their diet makes each an excellent complimentary buddy for other tranquil surgeonfish such as those in the Zebrasoma genus that eat the larger filamentous algae. A number of species in the genus Ctenochaetus show a modification in pigmentation from juvenile to adult, though the majority of other surgeonfish do not change color as they age.
  • Naso – The genus Naso includes 20 species. This genus most popular characteristic is the development of a swelling or single horn-like forecast on the forehead of some of the members of the Naso genus, providing them the classification of ‘Unicornfish’. However a number of them don’t grow horns at all, and some just have horns on the male fish.Other attributes include an elongated body shape, a narrower caudal peduncle with 2 scalpels or spinal columns on either side that are fixed instead of foldable (with the exception of three types having only a single spine), three pelvic fin rays, and a single continuous dorsal fin starting at the head and extending through the length of their body.These fishes generally swim in large schools and eat zooplankton. The exception is Naso literatus, the “Lipstick Tang“, which feeds on algae and generally lives in pairs. They are among some of the hardiest and most serene of the surgeonfish, the biggest challenge to keeping them in a fish tank is their really big size, varying from one to over 3 feet.
Diamond Gobies (Sandsifter Goby) Care

Many are appropriate only for public aquariums. The Lipstick Tang N. literatus is once again the exception, as it can suit rather well a big home aquarium.

  • Paracanthurus – There are just one species in the genus Paracanthurus, and it is most likely the most popular of the tangs. It is the Blue Tang Paracanthurus hepatus, also referred to as the Regal Tang or Hippo Tang.
  • Zebrasoma – The genus Zebrasoma consists of 7 types. They are popularly called the ‘sailfin tangs’ since when their fins are completely extended, the height of the fish is about the same as its length, offering it a disk-shaped look. The sailfin tangs are discovered in every ocean of the world.These reasonably small surgeonfish are the hardiest of the marine fish tank occupants. They make excellent fish tank residents as they are very peaceful and co-habit perfectly with a variety of other fish. They are active, curious, and very personalized; and they are ravenous algae eaters making them exceptional prospects for a reef environment. Some favorites that are routinely offered are the Yellow Tang Zebrasoma flavescens, Pacific Sailfin Tang Zebrasoma veliferum, and the Twotone Tang Zebrasoma scopas.

Tang Fish General Care

Numerous of surgeonfish can be perfect aquarium inhabitants in a correct environment that is well kept. The individual species of surgeonfish differ somehow in their care requirements and hardiness, however, most require big quantities of algae and other plant products.

They also require a big-sized aquarium with suitable decor for hiding places, however that likewise has lots of open swimming space in addition to a vigorous current and well-oxygenated water.

The water quality requires to be stable and pristine. Surgeonfishes can be rather long-lasting but they are very vulnerable to skin illnesses or disease, typically Marine Ich Cryptocaryon irritants and Marine Velour Oodinium ocellatum.

They will succumb to disease very quickly in a less than ideal environment. These fishes consume a lot and produce a great deal of waste, so adding protein skimmer is a must.

Saltwater Tangs are an especially great addition to a reef where they will constantly graze on algae growth. Simply watch, as specific types might have a craving for sessile invertebrates, like large-polyped stony corals. This habit usually starts when grazing for feces, however, some tangs then start to nip the mouth and polyps of the coral itself.

Most make great tank mates in a community setting too, nevertheless, they will not endure their own kind and are really often belligerent with other tang species. It is best to keep just one tang per tank unless the tank is extremely big and you are a skilled aquarist. Tangs are often aggressive towards other herbivores added after they are established.

Abudefduf Sexfasciatus (Scissortail Sergeant)

Dealing with the surgeonfish

Due to their scalpel-like spines, you need to be really mindful when dealing with these fishes to avoid an agonizing cut. A cut from these spinal columns can trigger staining and swelling of the skin with a high danger of infection.

The discomfort lasts for hours then still ends up having a dull ache. When catching them to keep them from getting stuck in the net, it is a great concept to use a fine-meshed net.

They ought to be fed a number of times a day. In the wild, algae are their main food source and they are continuously searching. They should primarily be offered a vegetable-based diet plan at least three times a day.

Supply prepared herbivores foods and dried or frozen marine algae, even some broccoli on occasion. The dried macroalgae, Japanese Nori, is specifically taken pleasure in and Romaine lettuce or spinach can be drifted in the fish tank for grazing.

They will also need some meaty foods, especially as juveniles to include bulk. Meaty foods consist of brine shrimp, blood worms, chopped clams, plankton, and krill.

Surgeonfish Cuts

As known before that surgeonfish have blade-like spines or “knives” near their tail that can trigger deep cuts. Unlike other marine animals with spines, no toxic substance is in the spines. The reason for surgeonfish cuts are skin contacts with the sharp cutting spines near the tail of the fish.

Facts on Surgeonfish Cuts

  • Surgeonfish (also called the doctorfish, or tang) is a tropical reef fish that has bladelike spines “knives” on their sides near the tail, which can inflict deep cuts if not handled with care. These blades can either be foldable or fixed.
  • There are around 75 species of surgeonfish and are in subtropical and tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific Ocean, Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Red Sea.
  • When approached, Surgeonfish tend to disregard scuba divers and move away. Their spines may cause deep permeating wounds.
  • Surgeonfish do not have venom or toxic substance connected with them.

Symptoms of Surgeonfish Cuts

The cut from a surgeonfish is instantly uncomfortable and typically deep. It will bleed, usually. It is rare to have signs beyond the cut but when it does occur there can be muscle pains, nausea, stress, and anxiety.

Surgeonfish Cuts Treatment

  • Apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding.
  • Clean the cut with soap and water completely.
  • Soak the cut in hot, non-scalding water (to about 110 degrees F or 43.3 C) for 30 to 90 minutes or up until the discomfort is relieved.
  • Scrub the cut very well to eliminate any foreign product (dirt, shells, etc) out of the cut
  • Stitches are rarely going to be put due to the fact that it would increase the threat of infection. If the cut is really large or is in a cosmetic location (for example the face) then the health care expert may consider putting stitches after describing the alternatives to the patient.
  • Antibiotics might be recommended to prevent secondary infection due to the nature of the depth and the cut. This is questionable and based upon the size, depth, and location of the cut or injury sustained.