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Best Tangs for the Tropical Saltwater Aquarium

In this article I’ll tell you about Best Tangs for the Tropical Saltwater Aquarium. Tangs, also called surgeonfishes, are favorite fishes for the tropical marine aquarium. While a few are well known, author Mark Martin shares some surprising favorites.

Best Tangs for the Tropical Saltwater Aquarium

Tangs are great saltwater aquarium fishes. While the yellow tang is nearly synonymous with the marine aquarium hobby, there are many other tangs to know. To discover the “coolest” tangs available, Suite101’s Saltwater Fish feature writer sat down with Mark Martin. Martin is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saltwater Aquariums (2009) and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Blue Zoo Aquatics, where he is the director of marine ornamental research.

What are the five coolest tangs?

Mark Martin: In my opinion, and based on my experience advising thousands of aquarists on the right tang for their aquarium, the five coolest tangs are the Eibli mimic tang, the spot face surgeonfish, the Vlamingii tang, the mustard surgeonfish, and the Thompson’s surgeonfish.

Eibli Mimic Tang

Tell me about each starting with the Eibli mimic tang.

Mark Martin: Well for reef geeks, there is nothing cooler than having your friends come over and say “Hey, what’s that Eibli angelfish doing in your reef tank?”

Because the Eibli angelfish is not considered reef compatible but the Eibli mimic tang is?

Mark Martin: Yep. So you can have a fish that looks like an angelfish in a tank where you couldn’t have most angelfishes. The reason for this is that the juveniles mimic the dwarf angelfish Centropyge eibli.

Does this tang go by any other names?

Mark Martin: Its scientific name is Acanthurus tristis, but it is also commonly called the Indian mimic surgeonfish, the yellowspot surgeonfish and the Blackcheek surgeonfish.

Spot Face Surgeonfish

Next on your list is the spot face surgeonfish?

Mark Martin: It sure is!


Mark Martin: Well, I always liked girls with freckles…. but seriously, this is just an absolutely beautiful fish.

Does the spot face surgeonfish go by any other names?

Mark Martin: Yes. Its scientific name is Acanthurus maculiceps, but it is also commonly referred to as the pale-lined surgeonfish, the spot-face surgeon, the spotted face surgeonfish, the white-freckled surgeonfish, and the yellow-freckled surgeon fish.

Vlamingii Tang

The next one on the list—the Vlamingii tang—is one many aquarists know.

Mark Martin: Well if they don’t they should! This is the nicest fish you will ever meet. It has cool little spots when it is young, and it develops the most impressive lyre tail as it ages.

And the common name and scientific name are similar?

Mark Martin: Yes. The scientific name is Naso vlamingii, but it is also called the Vlaming’s unicornfish, the bignose unicornfish, the scribbled unicornfish, or simply the unicornfish.

Unicornfish sounds very exotic.

Mark Martin: This fish is very exotic-looking. In fact, most of the tangs from the genus Naso are. It’s a shame that many aquarists only know the so-called naso tang or N. lituratus.

Mustard Surgeonfish

Suite101: Next we have the mustard surgeonfish—a fish I don’t think I know.

Mark Martin: It’s not always available, but it should be. This is a gorgeous fish! And I thought stripes and polka dots shouldn’t be worn together. Huh! In a big tank, this is a fantastic shoaling tang!

What’s the scientific name?

Mark Martin: Acanthurus guttatus. You’ll also see it commonly referred to as the spotband surgeonfish, the spotted surgeonfish, and the whitespotted surgeonfish.

Thompson’s Surgeonfish

And the last is the Thompson’s surgeonfish?

Mark Martin: The Thompson’s surgeonfish—otherwise known as Acanthurus thompsoni—is a beautiful fish that should be on every aquarist’s radar screen. It’s also commonly called the chocolate surgeonfish, the night surgeonfish, and the whitetail surgeonfish.

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