Naso Tang
Naso Tang

Naso Tang

Naso lituratus

Naso Tang

Naso lituratus is known under many different common names in English, such as Naso tang, Clown tang, Redlip surgeonfish, Orange spine surgeonfish, Orangespine unicornfish, Barcheek unicornfish, Masked unicornfish, Poll unicornfish, Orange-spine unicornfish, Orangespine unicornfish, Pacific orangespine unicornfish, Striped unicornfish, and Striped-faced unicornfish. 

Naso lituratus is found in the western and central Pacific, while its close relative Naso elegans (Blonde Naso tang) inhabits the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. They were once considered variants of the same species. The main difference between the two species are colouration; the Blond Naso tang has a yellow dorsal fin.  

Naso lituratus has not been evaluated for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Geographical range, habitat and habits

The Naso tang is found in the Pacific Ocean, from Honshu in Japan to New Caledonia and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Eastwards, its range proceeds to Hawaii, French Polynesia, and Pitcairn. This species is also found in the waters of Clipperton Island in the Eastern Pacific. If you encounter a fish in the Indian Ocean or in the Red Sea that looks very similar to the Naso tang, it is most likely its close relative the Blonde Naso tang (Naso elegans). They were once considered variants of the same species.

The Naso tang is found among corals, rocks and rubble in lagoons and seaward reefs. The depth range for this species is 0-90 meters / 0-295 feet. Juveniles prefer shallow rocky reefs and will sometimes form small aggregations together with other similarly sized members of the family Ancanthurus. Adults typically live in small groups, but large aggregations also occur.    

Size and appearance

The largest scientifically measured Naso tang was 46.0 cm /18.1 in.

Unlike the Blonde Naso tang (Naso elegans), the Naso tang does not have a yellow dorsal fin. Instead, the Naso tang has a black dorsal fin and the black colour continues in the form of a pointed projection over the nape. The body is of a grayish brown shade and a prominent yellow line runs from the back of the mouth up to the eye. In addition to this, the fish is decorated with a pale blue line at the base of the dorsal fin, and both dorsal and anal fins have narrow blue margins and black submarginal linings. The anal fin is chiefly orange. The caudal fin sports a yellow submarginal band posteriorly. On both sides of the caudal peduncle, you can see a pair of spines surrounded by a bright orange area. Having two “scalpels” (spines) on each side of the tail fin instead of just one distinguishes the Naso tang from most other species of surgeonfish.
In adult males, the caudal fin is equipped with trailing filaments.

The Naso tang can rapidly change its colours depending on mood and environment. When this fish needs to hide or gets exited, it can become black with irregular patches of gray. 

Naso tang care

The Naso tang is an active species that can exceed 45 centimetres / 18 inches in length and a big aquarium is a must. 60 gallons / 225 litres is enough for a juvenile, but an adult specimen will need at least 125 gallons / 475 litres. If kept in an aquarium that is too small, the fish can end up stunted. Behaviour problems in Naso tangs are also normally the result of them being housed in insufficiently big aquariums. The Naso tang is an active species that needs plenty of open space for swimming, and the aquarium must also contain suitable hiding spots, such as crevices and caves. The Naso tang is an agile jumper so a secure lid is definitely recommended.

Do not add the Naso tang until the aquarium is well established and stable with prolific algae growth and some detritus for the fish to eat. Live rock and live sand will encourage the production of natural foods.

Keeping more than one Naso tang in the aquarium is not recommended, unless you have a really big and cleverly decorated tank (at least 275 gallons / 1000 litres). This fish is peaceful towards other species, as long as you avoid other surgeonfish, especially members of the genus Naso. If you wish to combine it with other surgeons, pick species that look very dissimilar when it comes to body shape and colouration. Compared to other members of the genus Naso, the Naso tang is quite aggressive, but it can still be kept in peaceful community aquariums.

The Naso tang is considered reef safe with caution, because it may nip hard and soft corals. This is a sign of nutritional deficiency and can be prevented by keeping your Naso tang well fed. You can read more about suitable foods in the feeding section further down in this article. 

The Naso tang inhabits tropical waters and will appreciate a water temperature of 75 - 79° F (24 - 26° C). Keep the pH-value between 8.1 and 8.4 and the specific gravity from 1.020 to 1.025. The oxygen level must be kept really high at all times and strong water movements are definitely recommended.

Be careful when you handle the Naso tang, because the scalpels can inflict painful wounds. The pain is known to last for hours and there is also a high risk of infection. Discolouration and swelling can occur. The spines may get entangled if you try to net this fish, so use a bucket or a plastic bag instead.

Members of the family Ancanthurus do not produce a lot of skin mucus and they are therefore not very well protected against skin ailments such as marine ich. Compared to other tangs, the Naso tang is however quite sturdy. In the wild, it is known to visit cleaner wrasses to get rid of skin parasites, but wrasses are notoriously difficult to keep in aquaria. If you wish to provide your tang with a cleaner there are easier alternatives to chose among, such as cleaner shrimps and Neon Gobies (Gobiosoma sp.).

Prolonged and/or frequent use of copper medication should be avoided since this can disrupt the necessary microfauna present in the digestive system of this tang. 

Feeding Naso tang

In the wild, the Naso tang feeds chiefly on leafy brown algae, such as Sargassum and Dictyota.

Encourage natural algae growth in the aquarium to make it possible for the fish to carry out its normal grazing behaviour. It is also a good idea to add “leafy” food, e.g. by placing nori and blanched lettuce in a clothes-pin or feeding clip inside the aquarium. The Naso tang is also known to appreciate boiled vegetables such as broccoli and zucchini, and live marine algae is naturally beneficial. Even though this is chiefly an herbivore species, it will need occasional servings of meaty foods to stay healthy, e.g. brine shrimp and mysid shrimps. Last but not least, it is advisable to include a high-quality flake food rich in vitamin C in the diet.

Feed your Naso tang many small portions throughout the day instead of just one or two major servings.

Once your Naso tang has grown accustomed to you, it is possible to teach it to come to the surface and eat from your hand.

Breeding Naso tang

In adult males, the caudal fin has trailing filaments.

We still know very little about the breeding behaviour of the Naso tang, but pair-spawning has been observed in the wild. The pair will swim together towards the surface while releasing eggs and sperm. The eggs are pelagic with an extended larval phase.

Surgeonfish - Tang Articles:

Achilles Surgeonfish – Acanthurus achilles
Atlantic Blue Tang – Acanthurus coeruleus
Blue Hippo Tang – Paracanthurus hepatus
Chevron Tang – Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis
Clown Surgeonfish – Acanthurus lineatus
Convict Surgeonfish – Acanthurus triostegus
Desjardinii Tang – Zebrasoma desjardinii
Kole Tang – Ctenochaetus strigosus
Mimic Surgeonfish – Acanthurus pyroferus
Orangeshoulder Surgeonfish – Acanthurus olivaceus
Powder Blue Tang – Acanthurus leucosternon
Powder Brown Tang – Acanthurus japonica
Purple Tang – Zebrasoma xanthurum
Sailfin Tang – Zebrasoma veliferum
Scopas Tang – Zebrasoma scopas
Whitecheek Surgeonfish – Acanthurus nigricans
Yellow Tang – Zebrasoma flavescens


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