Naso Tang (Naso Lituratus): Ultimate Care Guide


If you have one of those super large aquariums and are looking for a beautiful, exotic looking fish to put into it, then look no further than the naso tang, otherwise known as the naso lityratus.  This graceful and peaceful surgeonfish goes by a few common names such as clown surgeonfish, literate surgeonfish, lipstick tang, and the orangespine unicorn fish.  Its family comes from the Acanthuridae and can be found in the central and western parts of the Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii, Japan, Tuamotu, and the Marquesas.  The naso tang can be found by itself, or in pairs, or in large groups and they frequent coral reefs at depths of 16-300 feet.  You can find them in the wild swimming above coral rocks among reef flats and slopes. 

When looking at this large fish, you will immediately see that the body of this fish is light to dark gray.  It usually has a patch of yellow on its forehead and some accented lines that extend from below the ye down to behind the mouth.  The naso tang have orange lips and the dorsal fin is blue at the base with some black and white bands along the outer margin.  Although, there are varieties of this fish as well. 

The naso tang also have scalpel-like spines near their tails which are surrounded by orange coloring.  These spines are extremely sharp and carry a toxin that can cause severe pain to humans and even death to smaller aquatic creatures.  It is best to be careful with these fish when moving them and use a net with care or a bag to avoid personal injury or injury to the fish itself.  These spines are used for defense and aggression and can inflict nasty wounds.

Naso Tang Care

When bringing the naso tang into a new aquarium, they can be rather rugged once they become accustomed to their new home, so it is best to take your time to introduce them into the new area.  In order for them to maintain their health, it is best that the tank is set at very specific parameters so as to give them their best chance of being comfortable in their new environment. 

For the temperature of the tank, the naso tang prefer a temperature of 75°F – 79°F (24°C – 26°C).  Like many other saltwater fish from the Great Barrier Reef regions, this puts the water on the warmer side.  It is also best to put the pH balance between 8.1 and 8.4.  This will ensure that the naso tang will be able to survive in captivity, as it best replicates its wild environment.  When introducing it to its new environment, the naso tang tends to be a bit shy and nervous and may take some time to adjust.

The naso tang is a very large fish to keep in captivity.  An adult sized naso tang can reach up to eighteen inches.  They generally start off around 4-5 inches, but will soon grow quickly once they are settled in their new habitat.  It should also be known that these naso tang fish are very lively swimmers.  In the wild, they are likely to swim in pairs, but this might be challenging in an aquarium setup. 

Naso Tang (Naso Lituratus)
Naso Tang (Naso Lituratus)

Food and Diet

The naso tang is a herbivore and has a diet preference for brown macroalgae.  In the wild, they would normally eat sargassum and dictyota.  But for the sake of a large aquarium, the naso tang will look for the large live rocks to find their food.  They will eat dried seaweed or dried algae if you use a lettuce clip to place it under some live rock in the tank.  However, it is highly recommended that you get yourself some brown macroalgae for the tank as it is the key to keeping them healthy in the long term, as it is the most natural thing that the naso tang eat. In a pinch, they will also eat mysis shrimp and other meaty fares if they see other fish eating it too, but this is only if it is necessary. 

The naso tang can live around eight years and sometimes longer.  This is due to it being so lively in the tank and also that it is a herbivore and quite peaceful with other fish.  However, the fish will only live as long as it can if you do not care for the tank itself.  Make sure that you change the water every few weeks and keep an eye on the water levels. 

As you may have put together, the naso tang fish is a active swimmer and will spend most of its awake time swimming back and forth in the tank.  Therefore, it is imperative that you have a large tank for them to be healthy.  An aquarium size of 135 gallons in recommended for fully grown naso tang fish.  Anything smaller and the fish will get stressed out and become anxious.  This big fish will be all over your tank once he is comfortable so having a large tank is paramount to its happiness.

Now that you have your massive tank for your naso tang, you must think of how to set it up.  The naso tang fish is moderately easy to care for, as long as you take the necessary precautions.  Obviously, you will need saltwater in your tank.  Since this fish swims around so much, you will need to have a lot of space in your tank.  Therefore, if you are going to put any kind of rocks or leafs into the tank, make sure that they are out of the way and leave clear paths for the naso tang to swim around.  If you have a protein skimmer and multiple power heads, then they can help increase the oxygen levels in the water.  Make sure to also compliment the tank with a decent filter. 

The natural habitat for the naso tang fish are the reef areas and are used to the warm, salty waters.  The ideal habitat for an aquarium then will mimic these same features, so be sure to monitor the waters carefully.  In order to produce an ideal habitat for the naso tang, the tank needs to be as close to its natural habitat as possible, which includes temperature, ample space, and food possibilities. 

Diseases

When taking care of any fish, it is important to keep the aquarium clean, change the water every few weeks, and measure the water levels to make sure they are within the proper parameters for the fish to survive and be healthy.  That being said, understanding the naso tang fish means understanding how they behave in the tank.  They are very active swimmers, so one obvious tell about their health issues is if they suddenly become lethargic in their swimming.  Naso tang do not have a mucus barrier on their bodies which make them susceptible to disorders including marine ich and marine velvet.  This will be shown on the fish as white spots, or cryptocaryon, which is very common among tangs.  Another sign that your naso tang fish is not healthy is when they stop eating.  If this happens, then it might become necessary to quarantine the naso tang and treat the infection with copper drugs. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the wild naso tang would have the benefit of a cleaner wrasse that would remove any parasites from its body.  Unfortunately, these wrasse do not make good pets, however, neon gobies or cleaner shrimp are a good substitute and can help your naso tang stay healthy.

Naso Tang Breeding

The main thing to remember about naso tang fish is that they are pair spawners.  In the wild, the female and the male would swim up to the surface of the water together.  The female would then release her eggs and the male would fertilize them.  The fertile eggs would float along the surface of the ocean and carry the larvae until they are ready to hatch.  Breeding the naso tang fish in captivity would be extremely difficult and there is no record of the naso tang fish breeding in a home aquarium, but might be able to breed in an extra-large tank made for breeding.  However, this tank would need to be well beyond a size made for a home or casual hobbyist.  Therefore, it is properly not advisable to plan on breeding the naso tang fish at home.

In order to tell the difference between the male and female naso tang fish, look for the trailing caudal streamers, as these only appear in the male versions of the fish. 

Tank Mates for Naso Tang

Naso tang fish, while peaceful, do not really get along with other tangs or surgeonfish, so it is best to not put them into the same tank.  However, naso tang do play very nicely with other species, but make sure that they are used to the aquarium life before you introduce other fish into the tank.  Since you are ideally staying away from other naso tang surgeonfish, some great tank mates for the naso tang would be the clownfish, eels, gobies, yellow tang, sailfin tang, and angelfish. 

However, due to their aggression and territorial nature, some other tangs might be best to avoid as tank mates.  But if you do have a larger than normal tank, some of the other tangs can be placed in that same tank as the naso tang fish.  For example, the purple tang is a pretty good companion to the naso tang, but again, this is assuming that your tank is large enough. The naso tang will swim around in caves and around rocks and should leave the purple tang alone. 

Another trick is to put a mirror into your tank.  For some reason, this calms the fish down when they see their own reflection.  It might have to do with seeing another fish that looks like them and makes their stress level go down.  Or it could just be that the naso tang see how beautiful they are and are reminded of their beauty and calm down.  Either way, this might be a nice little additive to your tank to ensure that none of your fish mates get too aggressive with each other.

Where to Find Naso Tang for Sale

If you are sold on these gorgeous naso tang fish and wish to purchase one, get ready to spend a bit of money.  The naso tang are a little on the pricey side and can range anywhere from $90-270.  You can find them for sale on EBay, but there is a dose of skepticism when buying fish from there.  What might work better is finding them at a local seawater fish shop, or you can find them on such websites as saltwaterfishshop.com, liveaquaria.com, or reefchasers.com.  Websites like these offer much more professional care for your fish and specialize in selling seawater fish.  They will also have many items that you might need for your tank once you have purchased your naso tang and will be happy to answer any questions you might have.  This is a much more trustworthy route to go, but always do your own research when looking to buy one of these majestic creatures.

One other factor to keep in mind about naso tang is that there is also a fish called the blonde naso tang.  The blonde naso tang are slightly different because they have a blonde dorsal fin and come from the Red Sea.  While they are named differently, there is really not much separating these two kinds of tang besides the color and the region in which they come from.  However, it is worth mentioning because the blonde naso tang is much more expensive than the regular naso tang.  Blonde naso tangs have been said to be a bit more colorful besides the dorsal fin, but this is not enough to warrant it being classified as its own species.  When purchasing a naso tang, be sure you know which one you are getting. 

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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