Vlaming's Unicornfish ~ Bignose Unicornfish ~ Vlamingii TangFamily: Acanthuridae Naso vlamingiiPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
A highly sought after surgeonfish, the Vlamingi Tang or Bignose Unicornfish becomes quite spectacular as an adult!
The Vlamingi Tang not only gets more beautiful as it gets larger, but has the ability to quickly and dramatically change its color from pale to brilliant to dark, depending on mood or environment. In the wild they will be a more moderate slate bluish color when swimming in the open ocean, becoming darker as they approach the reef and lighter when they approach a cleaning station. When trying to impress a female or indicate anger/ dominance, the male will seem to flash with brilliant metallic blue lines and spots. Being a very big fish that will reach a length of just under 2 feet, this pretty specimen is most suitable for a large show aquarium.
Of all the species in the Naso genus, the Vlamingi Tang is the most hardy. They are also the most aggressive of this peaceful group of fish, so are a little more able to hold their own in a semi-aggressive tank. They get along with most other marine fish and can be kept with a variety of tank mates including other genus' of surgeonfish. However unless you have a huge (hundreds of gallons) system, it is best to house just one Naso tang to a tank.
Like all surgeonfish and tangs, the Vlamingi Tang or Bignose Unicornfish likes a lot of water turbulence rather than a placid aquarium. They are very active and need a large tank with plenty of room to swim along with some rocks/ corals with crevices to hide and sleep in.Though they generally ignore invertebrates, this fish is not considered reef safe because it is clumsy and will topple corals while swimming about in fast clips. As juveniles, they will do you the favor of cleaning algae off of your live rock, but as adults they are basically carnivorous.
For more Information on keeping marine fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium
Habitat: Natural geographic location: The Vlamingi Tang or Bignose Unicornfish was described by Valenciennes in 1835. They are found in the Indo-Pacific from east Africa to southern Japan; Line, Marquesan, and Tuamoto Islands; and the southern Great Barrier Reef and New Caledonia.
In their natural habitat they are found at depths down to about 165 feet (50 meters). Though occasionally found singly or in pairs, they generally live in loose groups or schools. They prefer the upper regions of seaward reef drop-offs or steeply sloped lagoons, and will always be within 32 to 65 feet (10 - 20 meters) of the reef where they can quickly retreat if necessary.
Description: The Vlamingi Tang or Bignose Unicornfish become quite spectacular as they grow. Like the other Naso species they have an elongated body shape with a narrower caudal peduncle, features that distinguish this genus from other Acanthurids. The forehead of the adult Vlamingi forms a bulbous rounded protrusion, much less of a horn than many of other unicornfish, and they have very tall dorsal and anal fins.
Adults generally having a grayish-brown color overall with vertical blue lines on the sides and small blue spots along the upper half of the body and down close to the belly. The head, sometimes more of an olive color, has a blue trimmed mouth. There is a blue band running horizontally across the top of the snout just below the eye. The dorsal, anal fin, and caudal fin are beautifully edged in blue.
Juveniles are less striking, being generally gray and lacking the lines. The top half of the body is a greenish yellow and the area below the pectoral fin is generally white. Areas can change into a brown or olive coloration with hues of gold and blue. The lips are blue and the caudal fin is dark. Juveniles will start to show their adult colors at around 5 inches.
On each side of the caudal peduncle are two fixed spines or "scalpels" used for defense or dominance. Having one or two fixed blades are what places the Naso genus in the subfamily Nasinae. 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. These fish are best captured using a double bag under water, rather than a net.
The Vlamingi Tang will live for about 45 years
Maintenance difficulty: Once eating, Vlamingi Tangs are hardy and easy to maintain as long as sufficient space is provided. Obtain a specimen that is at least 4" long as smaller ones rarely adapt to living in captivity. As they attain around 80% of their growth in the first 5 years of life, this means they are growing at a rate of approximately 3 - 4" per year. They must be housed in a large tank. It is best not to purchase small with the idea of "getting a bigger tank" later, as these fish will quickly outgrow a smaller tank. Four feet long is the minimum length for a small specimen, but as this would be quite temporary a six foot or larger aquarium would be better. Too small of an environment can stunt their growth and they can develop 'behavior problems'. A healthy Vlamingi Tang will be swimming the length of the tank during the day. If you see any sulking, hiding behavior, this is an indication of stress. If their reason for sulking is not resolved or they are stressed for too long they may not recover.
They can handle a wide range of water parameters but will do best in an environment that provides consistency, not only in water conditions and quality, but also in decor and fellow inhabitants. They can be housed in a fish only tank, and as they will not harm corals or invertebrates they are compatible in a reef environment . However because they are clumsy swimmers, they often knock over rocks/ corals so may not be best for a reef.
Naso 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 LLD (lateral line 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 sp.) 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 Vlamingi Tang or Bignose Unicornfish are primarily carnivorous once they reach adulthood. In the wild these fish range over large areas of steep reefs with juveniles picking at attached algae while adults are usually found feeding on zooplankton in the open waters. Your Vlamingi unicornfish will be a herbivore as a juvenile, omnivore as a sub-adult and a carnivore as a mature adult, eating zooplankton larger shrimp and worms of all sorts.
Being an herbivore when young, the majority of their intake will be vegetable matter and as they grow they will need some meaty foods as well. Provide lots of algae, prepared frozen formulas containing algae or spirulina, frozen brine and mysis shrimp, and flake foods. Japanese Nori 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. This will keep the water quality higher over a longer 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. They may jump out of an open aquarium, so be sure to have a lid. 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
There are some Acanthuridae members that are delicate and will require more specific care, but most will respond well if you employ a few technical considerations. All surgeonfish need an aquarium with plenty of aeration, a strong current will help to provide good oxygenation. Provide a large tank with plenty of space for swimming, especially for adult specimens, along with lots of rocks/ corals with crevices for retreating and for sleeping. This decor will lend itself to algae growth which these fish will enjoy grazing on as juveniles.
Minimum Tank Length/Size:
A minimum 50 gallon (190 liters) temporarily for a juvenile, 180 gallon (680 liters) or more for an adult. Four feet long is the minimum length for a small specimen, but as this would be quite temporary a six foot or larger aquarium would be better. Too small of an environment can stunt their growth and they can develop 'behavior problems'.
Light: Recommended light levels
It nature it is found in sunlit areas. 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 75 - 82° F (24 - 28° C) will serve them well.
Water Movement: Weak, Moderate, Strong
Moderate with strong brisk areas. 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 very 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 all the species in the Naso genus is they are quite peaceful and unobtrusive making them an excellent addition to a community aquarium. The Vlamingi Tang is the most aggressive of this peaceful group of fish, so are a little more able to hold their own in a semi-aggressive tank. They get along with most other marine fish and can be kept with a variety of tank mates including other genus' of surgeonfish. Unless you have a huge (hundreds of gallons) system, it is best to house just one Naso tang to a tank. Though they generally ignore invertebrates, this fish is not considered reef safe,because it is clumsy and will topple corals while swimming in fast clips. As juveniles, they will do you the favor of cleaning algae off of your live rock, but as adults they are basically carnivorous.The Vlamingi Tang can be kept in a semi-aggressive community tank.
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 Unicornfish, a sailfin tang, and a Hippo Tang without 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. In general males of the Naso species will be larger, will have a longer horn-like projection on the forehead, and the caudal peduncle will be larger and more pronounced than on the females. On some species the tail is also longer.
Breeding/Reproduction: 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.
Though the Vlamingi Tang has not yet been bred in captivity, the Unicornfish spawn in pairs in the open water. The males can change part of their body into a brilliant color to court a female. A pair will rise to the surface to release their gametes. The eggs are pelagic with an extended larval phase, which probably accounts for the vast distribution of the Unicornfish.
For more information on breeding and the development of the fry, see: Marine Fish Breeding: Tangs.
Availability: The Vlamingi Tang or Bignose Unicornfish is occasionally available at retailers and it is possible that it may be ordered. They are regularly available on the internet and are priced at about $35.00 USD and up.