Gold-rimmed Tang

Whitecheek Surgeonfish ~ Powder Brown Tang<br /> Velvet Tang ~ Yellow-fin Tang

Family: Acanthuridae Picture of a Gold-rimmed Tang or Whitecheek Surgeonfish, Acanthurus nigricansAcanthurus nigricansPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Tommy Johansen
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I love this fish. Does very well in a established reef aquarium. Would recommend this fish to an advanced hobbyist.  Jason Hacker

   Being a voracious algae eater the Gold-rimmed Tang does best in an aquarium with lots of algae growth, quite beneficial to a productive reef!

   Due to its relatively small size, the Gold-rimmed Tang can be a good choice for the home aquarium, however it is a high maintenance fish. It is also a more aggressive surgeonfish. It can generally be kept in a community tank with a variety of tank mates, but it can get aggressive towards other species with a similar body shape and diet. It is also aggressive to others of its own genus, so should be kept singly.

   The Gold-rimmed Tang or Whitecheek Surgeonfish is one of the surgeonfish often referred to as a 'Powder Brown Tang', the other being the very similar looking White-faced Surgeonfish A. japonicus. In fact they are so similar looking that they are often both sold under the name Powder Brown Tang, and it takes a diligent eye to know which of these two fish you may be getting. Both these fish are delicate when first acquired and can be difficult to acclimate to the aquarium. But while the White-faced Surgeonfish is fairly easy to care for once it is settled, this tang continues to be quite sensitive to its environment making it a more difficult to fish to sustain. It is also less frequently available than the White-faced Surgeonfish.

  The Gold-rimmed Tang likes a lot of water movement rather than a placid aquarium. A quick and agile swimmer it will need plenty of swimming space, and like all surgeonfish it needs corals/ rocks with crevices for retreat and sleeping at night. Initially it is a very shy fish and can be a rather finicky feeder and difficult to acclimate. Even once it gets settled it will still be a very delicate fish, prone to both marine ick and Lateral Line Erosion disease (LLE). To maintain this tang will require top quality water conditions and close attention to a proper diet. Offer it lots of marine algae such as Japanese Nori, macroalgae, and spirulina. Being a voracious algae eater, a good algae growth in the aquarium helps provide for its nutritional needs as well as making it an excellent candidate for a reef environment.

For more Information on keeping marine fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Acanthurus nigricans
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Acanthuridae
  • Genus: Acanthurus
  • Species: nigricans
Gold-Rimmed Tang, Whitecheek surgeonfish, Acanthurus nigricans

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Gold-Rimmed Tang pair in the wild.

The Acanthurus nigricans, or the Gold-Rimmed Tang are a little easier to keep than the Whiteface Tang, A. japonicus. The Whitefaced-Tang's, entire face is white, not just under the cheek and around the mouth. The Gold-Rimmed Tang only has a wide horizontal dash under the eye, so they are actually easy to tell apart, plus they get much darker as adults. Sticking with the scientific names really is the only way to make sure the correct fish is ordered for you! They are semi-aggressive, have high caloric veggies needs and they need very clean water in a minimum tank size of 125 gallons.

Habitat: Natural geographic location:   The Gold-rimmed Tang or Whitecheek Surgeonfish was described by Linnaeus in 1758. They are found across a wide range in the Indo-Pacific: in the Eastern Indian Ocean from Cocos-Keeling Islands and Christmas Island; the Pacific Ocean from the Ryukyu Islands and the Great Barrier Reef to Japan and Hawaii, and the French Polynesia (excluding Rapa); and across the Pacific Ocean at the Revillagigedo Islands, Cocos Island, Galapagos Islands and Mexico.
   In their natural habitat they are found at depths between 6 to 220 feet (2 - 67 meters) along outer reefs from the surge zone downwards and rocky bottoms in clear lagoons. They inhabit the areas of exposed reefs and rocky areas. They are territorial and solitary, rarely forming groups.
   They sometimes co-occur with and have sometimes hybridize with their similar looking cousin, the White-faced Surgeonfish A. japonicus, in southern Japan and the Bonin Islands. They have also been known to hybridize with the Achilles Tang A. achilles.

Status:    These fish are not listed on the IUCN Red List.

Description:    The adult Gold-Rimmed Tang or Whitecheek Surgeonfish has a disk shaped brownish body with a white patch from just under the eye and a narrow white band nearly encircling the mouth. The dorsal, anal, and ventral fins are black and edged with a beautiful blue. There is a yellow stripe running along the body just above and below the dorsal and anal fins that broadens towards the back, extending almost all the way across the later portion of the fins. The caudal fin is whitish with a vertical yellow bar on the back third the fin.
   On each side of the caudal peduncle is a single yellowish spine or "scalpel" used for defense or dominance. When not in use the spine is folded down into a groove that is also yellowish. Caution needs to be exercised when handling surgeonfish as a cut from its scalpel can cause discoloration and swelling of the skin with a high risk of infection. The pain lasts for hours then still ends up having a dull ache.

Dr. Jungle says, "Will the real 'Powder Brown Tang' ... please step up!"
  Two very similar looking fish, and both claim the title of 'Powder Brown Tang'. As both of these fish have a very similar appearance in body and fin colorations and both have white on the face, a closer observation is needed to distinguish them.
  • Gold-rimmed Tang - Acanthurus nigricans (also known as the Whitecheek Surgeonfish)
  • White-faced Surgeonfish - Acanthurus japonicus (also known as the Japan Surgeonfish)

   One difference, represented in their common names of 'White-faced' and 'Whitecheek', is the extent of the white on the face; the Gold-Rimmed (Whitecheek) has a white patch just under the eye while this same patch extends down to the mouth on the White-faced.
   There are some other markings that also distinguish these two. The White-faced has a red band along the back of the dorsal fin and a yellow spot just under the pectoral fin, both are missing from the Gold-Rimmed. The Gold-Rimmed has a yellow band on the back third of the caudal fin that is missing from the White-faced. Also the brown coloration tends to extend over the entire body to the tail fin on the Gold-rimmed, while it fades into a yellowish color towards the back on the White-faced. A not so noticeable difference is that the White-faced has a more oval shaped body as well.

Length/Diameter of fish:    Adults reach 8.4 inches (21.3 cm).

Maintenance difficulty:    The Gold-Rimmed Tang is a delicate fish when first obtained and can be difficult to acclimate. Though it is unknown exactly why, it is possibly related to stress induced during collection and shipment. They continue to be a delicate fish even once they get settled. They are also initially quite shy and need lots of nooks and crannies in rocks/ corals to hide in to feel secure. Offer lots of marine algae, a really good macro algae to get them eating initially like gracillaria is a good idea as most tangs can't resist it. Other good algaes are Japanese Nori, kombu, and spirulina.
   As it is prone to ick and Lateral Line Erosion disease (LLE), this surgeonfish is a high maintenance fish. It will require pristine water conditions and close attention to its nutrition. It will do best in an environment that provides consistency, not only in water conditions and quality, but also in decor and fellow inhabitants. It can be housed in a fish only tank or in a reef environment as it will not harm corals.
   All surgeonfish need an aquarium with plenty of aeration, a strong current will help to provide good oxygenation. Provide plenty of space, especially for adult specimens, along with lots of rocks/ corals with crevices for retreating and for sleeping. This decor will also lend itself to algae growth which surgeonfish enjoy grazing on, making them a valuable addition to a reef environment.
   Surgeonfish and tangs are continuous feeders and they need to be provided a proper diet. They are susceptible to nutritional disorders which may cause color loss and LLE (lateral line erosion disease). Supplementing their diet with the addition of vitamin C to their food or adding a vitamin supplement directly to their water can help to avoid or aid in reducing these ailments. They are also susceptible to bacteria resulting from organic buildup which deteriorates water quality. Consequently they will need vigorous filtration, protein skimming, and regular small water changes.
   Many of the Acanthuridae members are very colorful, active, and attractive to aquarists. But they do not produce as much skin mucus on their bodies as other fish and can be susceptible to diseases such as Marine Ich and Marine Velvet. Surgeonfish are definitely a candidate for quarantine when you first receive them. They can be treated successfully with medical care or copper drugs, but because they have an important microfauna in their digestive system, prolonged or continuous use of a copper treatment is not advisable.
   In the wild a cleaner wrasse (Labroides sp.) will help them by taking parasites from their bodies, however these wrasses are extremely difficult to sustain in captivity. Alternative fish such as Neon Gobies (Gobiosoma spp.) or cleaner shrimp can help them by providing this cleaning service in the home aquarium.

Diseases that Surgeonfish and Tangs are susceptible to:
Marine Ich (white spot disease), Marine Velvet
and Lateral Line Erosion (LLE)

Foods:    The Gold-Rimmed Tangs are primarily herbivores. In the wild they feed almost exclusively on filamentous algae. In the aquarium the majority of their intake will be vegetable matter, but they do need some meaty foods as well. Provide lots of marine algae, prepared frozen formulas containing algae or spirulina, frozen brine and mysid shrimp, and flake foods. Japanese Nori, kombu, or other seaweed can be adhered to the aquarium glass with a vegetable clip. An occasional live rock with micro and macro organisms will be greatly appreciated. Culturing macro algae like chaetomorphia in the tank is also a great idea. Feed 3 times a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. As continuous grazers, they will benefit from this and it will also keep the water quality higher over a longer period of time.
   Providing a vitamin supplement (including vitamin C) can help provide for their nutritional needs, and vitamin C can help prevent or reduce Lateral Line Erosion (LLE). This can be done by soaking dried pellets with liquid vitamins, adding vitamins to the food, or adding a liquid vitamin into the water. It is also said that pellets soaked in garlic may help fend off Marine Ich. Some hobbyists also report success with supplemental foods such as previously boiled or frozen zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and leaf lettuce.

Maintenance:    A quick and agile swimmer it will spend a good deal of its time in the open water and moving in and out of crevices. Frequent water changes are not necessary, rather normal water changes at 10% biweekly or 20% monthly are fine.
   For more information see, Marine Aquarium Basics: Maintenance

Aquarium Parameters:
   All surgeonfish/ tangs are quick agile swimmers and need lots of open areas. To feel secure they also need rocks/ corals with many nooks and crannies to hide in and to wedge themselves into at night for sleeping. This fish will not bother corals or inverts but it will graze on algae, so it highly useful in a reef environment. However keep corals glued down, as their quick speeds may topple a coral or two. They thrive well in tanks with algae growth.
Minimum Tank Length/Size:
   A minimum 100 gallon (378 liters).
Light: Recommended light levels
   It nature it is found in areas of full sunlight. It can be kept under normal lighting conditions in the aquarium, but can also be kept under very bright light as long as some dimly lit spaces are provided.
   This species lives in tropical areas. Temperatures between 76 -82° F (24 - 28° C) will serve them well.
Water Movement: Weak, Moderate, Strong
   All surgeonfish and tangs thrive with good water movement, need lots of oxygen, and love to have the water rushing over their gills at times. Provide strong movement in at least one area of the tank.
Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom
   It will spend time in the open water and darting in and out of the rocks/ corals. It will sleep in crevices at night.

Social Behaviors:    The great thing about the Gold-Rimmed Tang is that they are fine in a reef setting with corals and they will graze on the algae. It is a more aggressive surgeonfish. It can generally be kept in a community tank with a variety of tank mates, but it can get aggressive towards other species with a similar body shape and diet. It is also aggressive to others of its own genus, so should be kept singly.
   Surgeonfish and tangs can be territorial, sometimes just with their own kind and sometimes with other species. Introducing a new surgeonfish into an aquarium that already houses one or more is usually a problem. It is best to initially introduce several species together rather than adding a new one later on. Though a large aquarium can help alleviate many problems, be aware of the social behaviors of any species you are considering to prevent compatibility problems.
   At times you may put surgeonfish and tangs together with different genus' as long as there are no similarities. For example a large tank can house a Naso Tang, Yellow Tang, and a Hippo Tang with out incident. Adding them together initially works best. When adding a new member to an established group, changing the rock work will often alleviate any aggression to the "new guy". A little chasing will occur, but usually nothing detrimental.

Sex: Sexual differences:    No sexual difference is noted for this species.

Breeding/Reproduction:   The Gold-Rimmed Tang has not yet been bred in captivity. Some species of surgeonfish have spawned in public aquariums and there have been a few scattered reports of spawning in home aquariums, but regular spawning and the rearing of the young has not yet been reported.
   For information on breeding and the development of the fry, see: Marine Fish Breeding: Tangs.

Availability:    The Gold-Rimmed Tang or Whitecheek Surgeonfish is often available at retailers and it is also possible to order one. They are priced around $40.00 USD and up.

Author: Clarice Brough, CFS
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