Powder Brown Tang

Japan Surgeonfish, White-faced Surgeonfish

Family: Acanthuridae Powder Brown Tang Acanthurus japonicus, Japan Surgeonfish, White-faced SurgeonfishAcanthurus japonicusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild
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The Powder Brown Tang is on many aquarist's search list because of its beauty and nice personality!

The Powder Brown Tang Acanthurus japonicus is a handsome fish with very nice markings. Its black dorsal and anal fins have a beautiful blue edging. A red band marks the back of the dorsal fin and yellow stripes run along the body just above and below these fins.

Its body, generally a brown to blackish blue, is where the name Powder Brown Tang comes from. and it is also known as the Powder Brown Surgeonfish and Powder Black Surgeon. But interestingly, it can quickly change the entire rear portion of its body to yellow with mood or environment. It also has quite a bit of white on its face, extending from the eye to the mouth. Thus it is also known by the common names White-faced Surgeonfish and White-nose Surgeonfish.

It is one of four species belonging to the "Achilles complex" (named after the the Achilles Tang Acanthurus achilles), and all have similarly placed markings. Of this group A. japonicus is often the aquarist's "next in line" choice after its pretty relative, the Powder Blue Tang Acanthurus leucosternon. But it is most similar looking to its cousin, the Whitecheek Surgeonfish Acanthurus nigricans (also called the Gold-rimmed Tang), and both of these fish are sold as a "Powder Brown Tang." These two are most readily distinguished by slight differences in their facial markings. This species has white extending from the eye to the mouth while the "Whitecheek" A. nigricans only has a white facial patch just under the eye. The Whitecheek also lacks the red stripe found on the dorsal fin of this tang.

Due to their similar appearance, this tang was once considered a subspecies of the Whitecheek Surgeonfish, with the name japonicus referring to its Japanese locality. Thus it is also commonly known as the Japan Surgeonfish and Japanese Tang. These two fish are similar in appearance and also have ranges that overlap in some areas, lending a propensity to hybridize with each other. Both of these "powder brown" species are delicate when first acquired and can be difficult to acclimate to the aquarium. However this tang, A. japonicus is more difficult to sustain in captivity while Its cousin, on the other hand, is a relatively hardy aquarium inhabitant once acclimated. A. japonicus is also less frequently available than A. nigricans.

A. japonicus is fairly easy to care for once it is settled, yet it continues to be quite sensitive to its environment. This makes it a more difficult to fish to sustain and so it is suggested for intermediate to advanced aquarists. It is moderately sized, with the larger females reaching just over 8 inches (21 cm), so will need a large, well maintained tank of 100 gallons or more. Appropriate tank mates and several feedings a day will be needed to keep this species happy and healthy.

For more Information on keeping saltwater fish see:
Marine Aquarium Basics: Guide to a Healthy Saltwater Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Acanthurus japonicus
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Acanthuridae
  • Genus: Acanthurus
  • Species: japonicus
White-faced Surgeonfish, Powder Brown Tang, Acanthurus japonicus

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Full size A. japonicus in captivity.

This White-faced Surgeonfish, also called the Powder Brown Tang, demonstrates the reason for a 6 foot long tank that is at least 150 gallons! They have high energy and need lots of food, space and clean water. There are a few other tangs in the tank that are different genus and seem smaller, so this may go well for this aquarist. At times, other tangs can be more aggressive and stress your peaceful White-faced Surgeonfish out, causing it to become ill. These tangs do not do as well as the Whitecheek Surgeonfish that has only a little white under the eye and around the mouth.

White-faced Surgeon - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Size of fish - inches: 8.3 inches (20.98 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 78.0° F (22.2 to 25.6° C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Powder Brown Tang Acanthurus japonicus was described by Schmidt in1930. They are found across a large geographical range in the Indo-West Pacific; southern Japan, Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan; Sulawesi (Indonesia) to the Philippines; Tuamoto and Hawaiian Islands; New Caledonia and Rapa. However, they are rarely found in Palau. The genus name, Acanthurus, means "thorn tail" and the species name "japonicus" refers to its Japanese locality. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Least Concern (LC) due to it being common and abundant throughout most of its range.

The common names A. japonicus are known by describe their color and location, as well as the duties performed by them with their sharp retractable tail area spines. These include Japan Surgeonfish, White-faced Surgeonfish, White-nose Surgeonfish, Powder Black Surgeon, Powder Brown Surgeonfish, White-faced Surgeon, Japanese Surgeonfish, and Japanese Tang.

About the Acanthurus Genus:

This species is a member of the Acanthuridae family of Surgeonfish. It belongs to the subfamily Acanthurinae as a member of the Tribe Acanthurini, in the large Acanthurus genus. Acanthurus is the type genus of the Acanthuridae family and there are currently 38 recognized species in this genus. Containing almost half of the currently 82 Surgeonfish species, this is the largest genus in the family.

Acanthurus are found in the tropical, subtropical, and some temperate waters of the Atlantic and Pacific. The majority of the species occur in the Indo-Pacific Oceans but there are 5 species found in the Atlantic Ocean. The Western Atlantic is home to four of these; the Blue Tang Surgeonfish A. coeruleus, Doctorfish A. chirurgus, Ocean Surgeon A. bahianus, and the Gulf Surgeonfish A. randalli; with the Monrovia Doctorfish A. monroviae occurring in the Eastern Atlantic.

Surgeonfish usually live in large schools or in pairs. Coastal waters, harbors and even estuaries for the young are prime areas for many of these fish. They feed during the day, but at night they sleep in small caves or crevices in the reef.

Typical of their family, many Acanthurus species occur in relatively shallow waters. The clear water and good sunlight promotes lots of algae growth on the rubble, rocks and coral skeletons for the herbivorous species to browse on. Those that are detritivores also occur here, feeding on detritus and diatoms from the substrate, often ingesting sand in the process. Some of the detritivores are also specialized for eating the feces of carnivorous fish. The smallest group of Acanthurus species, the zooplanktivores, swim in the open water feeding on miniscule prey.

Many members of the Acanthurus genus are very colorful, making them popular aquarium inhabitants. On average the species range from small species, such as the Brown surgeonfish Acanthurus nigrofuscus at 8 1/4 inches (21 cm), to the large Yellowfin Surgeonfish Acanthurus xanthopterus reaching up to 27 1/2 inches (70 cm). The smaller Acanthurus species can be kept in a good sized home aquarium but the larger fish, though often featured in public aquariums, are not really suitable for most hobbyist's tanks.

Acanthurus species are often very territorial towards conspecifics in the wild, fiercely defending their area and foods. In the aquarium the attitudes of individual species vary, but they all tend to be aggressive towards their own kind. Some will bully other types of Surgeonfish as well, especially if added after the resident Acanthurus is established, There are even a few "bad boy" species that get so aggressive in the aquarium that they will dominate the tank, attacking all other fish. These tangs are best kept singly in most aquariums, with some possible exceptions when the tank is very large.

About the Powder Brown Tang A. japonicus:

In their natural habitat the A. japonicus are found at depths between 16 to 65 (5 - 20 meters) feet along outer reefs, in coastal areas, and in lagoons. They co-occur with their similar looking cousin, the Whitecheek Surgeonfish (Gold-rimmed Tang) Acanthurus nigricans, in southern Japan and the Bonin Islands.

The Powder Brown Tang is a member of the Acanthurus achilles species complex that hybridize when their distributional ranges overlap each other. This complex also includes the Achilles Tang Acanthurus achilles, the Powder Blue Tang Acanthurus leucosternon, and Whitecheek Surgeonfish Acanthurus nigricans (also called the Gold-rimmed Tang). The Whitecheek Surgeonfish A. nigricans is similar in coloring, however on the face it only has a horizontal white dash under each eye and a white ring around the mouth. Due to their similar appearance, this tang was once considered a subspecies of the Whitecheek Surgeonfish, with the name japonicus referring to its Japanese locality. Thus it is also commonly known as the Japan Surgeonfish and Japanese Tang. Both these fish are sold as a "Powder Brown Tang," but the Whitecheek Surgeonfish is a little more hardy than this species.

Adult Powder Brown Tangs are found singly, but will also live in small to large groups in areas full of coral. Juveniles may be very shy, inhabiting large corals. They are considered herbivores as they graze on algae lawns in the wild. As grazers, they primarily consume various algae and detritus, but may inadvertently pick up small crustaceans. They probably eat foods similar to what the Whitecheek Surgeonfish consumes, since these two fish school so closely together. These include Caulerpa, Cladophora, Codium, Dictyata, Gracilaria, Laurencia, Padina, Polysiphonia, Turbinaria and some unidentified algae.

  • Scientific Name: Acanthurus japonicus
  • Social Grouping: Varies - Occur singly and in small or large groups.
  • IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern


The Powder Brown Tang is deep bodied with an oval disk shape. On each side of the caudal peduncle (the base of the tail fin) is a single spine or “scalpel” used for defense or dominance. When not in use the spine is folded down into a groove. It has a continuous dorsal fin and a slightly protruding mouth to get at algae between rocks.

Females can reach up to 8.26” (21 cm) in length, with males being slightly smaller. Tangs grow to 80% of their total length within the first 4 to 5 years, so these fish will reach about 6.6" in that amount of time. Like other tangs, they have an expected life span of 30 to 45 years (Choat and Axe 1996), though possibly less in captivity.

The adult Powder Brown Tang has varying brown to blackish blue coloring on the body. The dorsal, anal, and ventral fins are black and edged with a beautiful blue. There is a red band near the back of the dorsal fin and a yellow stripe running along the body just above and below the dorsal and anal fins. There is a yellow spot just under the pectoral fin and a white band from just under the eye to the top of the mouth. The caudal fin is white fading to blue and is edged with white. Interestingly, this species can quickly change the entire rear portion of its body to yellow with mood or environment.

The juvenile coloring is where we get the name “Powder Brown Tang.” It is very colorful as well, with shades of yellow around the top and bottom of the body shading into a light brown in the middle. The anal fin has a yellow and dark brown combination. The yellow dot at the pectoral fin is present as well as the white on the face, but not as pronounced as the adult; and there is a little line of white extending from the head to about mid dorsal.

This species and the Whitecheek Surgeonfish Acanthurus nigricans (also called the Gold-rimmed Tang) are two very similar looking fish that both claim the title of "Powder Brown Tang." Both have a very similar appearance overall, in body and fin colorations, and both have white on the face. A close observation is needed to distinguish them. The primary difference, represented by their common names of "White-faced" and "Whitecheek" is the extent of the white on the face. The Whitecheek Surgeonfish has just a white patch under the eye while this same patch extends down to the mouth on this species.

There are some other markings that distinguish these two as well. The A. japonicus has a red band along the back of the dorsal fin and a yellow spot just under the pectoral fin, both of which are missing from the Whitecheek Surgeonfish A. nigricans. But the Whitecheek does have a yellow band on the back third of the caudal fin that is missing from this species. Also on the Whitecheek Surgeonfish, the brown coloration tends to extend over the entire body to the tail fin, while it fades into a yellowish color towards the back on the White-faced. Lastly, a not so noticeable difference is that this species has a more oval shaped body.

  • Size of fish - inches: 8.3 inches (20.98 cm) - Females are larger than males.
  • Lifespan: 30 years - In the wild surgeonfish can typically live 30 to 45 years, possibly less in captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Powder Brown Tang is moderately difficult to care for due to its specific needs, and their long term success in captivity is poor. With a propensity to fall ill due to stress, water quality, or small housing, this fish is suggested for the intermediate to advanced aquarist. They are susceptible to bacteria resulting from organic buildup which deteriorates water quality. Consequently they will need vigorous filtration, protein skimming, and regular small water changes.

All Surgeonfish are wild caught and newly imported tangs can suffer from a mix of internal and external parasites, poor handling and housing, and a lack of nutrition. When selecting your fish, for the best success in keeping it long term, there are a few important things to consider. Make sure it has been in captivity for a while, it should be lively and actively picking at the decor. The coloring should be good and in shape, a pinched stomach is not necessarily a problem and can often be resolved with a good feeding regime. But be cautious if the upper body behind the eyes is sunken in when viewed from the front.

This 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. It is generally hardy and can handle a wide range of water parameters once it is acclimated. However, it will do best in an environment that provides consistency, not only in water conditions and quality, but also in decor and fellow inhabitants.

All Tangs should be isolated, quarantined for a couple of weeks after purchase so they can rest up. This also gives you an opportunity to observe and treat them for possible diseases before introducing them into your main system. They are susceptible to nutritional disorders which may cause color loss and Head and Lateral Line Erosion HLLE (called Hole-in-the-Head Disease in other species). Avoid activated carbon, as it is thought to be linked to HLLE.

These tangs can be housed in a fish only tank or in a reef environment as they will not harm corals. They are best kept as the only tang in the tank and the tank should be located in a calm part of the home to help keep stress levels low. Make sure there are plenty of crevices for the fish to hide in to feel secure. They need to be well fed, at least 3 times a day, with a variety of vegetable foods and some meaty foods, along with good algae growth in the aquarium, or algae sheets available for their constant grazing. Some successful aquarists have noted that they are best kept in a reef like setting rather than a fish only community.

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. When capturing your tang, use a container, not a net, due to the various spines they have on their tail, anal and pelvic fins.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate - Suggested for the intermediate to advanced aquarist, as it is difficult to acclimate and moderately difficult in care.

Foods and Feeding

Although they are omnivores, the diet of the Powder Brown Tangs is primarily that of an herbivore. In the wild they graze on algae lawns, but will also ingest some small crustaceans as they feed. They are continuous feeders and they need to be provided a proper diet. 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.

Providing a vitamin supplement (including vitamin C) can help provide for their nutritional needs and help fend off disease. Dried pellets can be soaked with liquid vitamins, vitamins can be added to the food, or liquid vitamin can be added into the water.

Having an aquarium with good algae growth, or providing a piece of Japanese Nori, kombu, or other seaweed is essential to satisfy their constant grazing requirements. Seaweed sheets can be affixed to a rock with a rubber band, or alternatively, it can be adhered to the aquarium glass with a vegetable clip. Until they become quite comfortable, however, they may not feed from a clip. Live rock with micro and macro organisms will also be greatly appreciated.

To get them eating initially, offering a really good macro algae initially, like gracillaria, is a good idea as most tangs can’t resist it. Culturing macro algae in the tank, like chaetomorphia, for ongoing maintenance is also good. They are not too picky about foods once they get settled. 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.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore - These fish graze on algae lawns in the ocean, and will ingest a small number of crustaceans living in the algae.
  • Flake Food: Yes - The food should have Spirulina in it.
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes - The food should have Spirulina in it.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - If the fish is not eating, offering live mysis or brine shrimp, gut-loaded with spirulina flake, may initiate a feeding response.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet - About 90% of its diet.
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet - Only about 10% of its diet. In a reef tank, copepods will be ingested with naturally growing algae, and supplementing may not be necessary.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - They need at least 3 feedings a day along with algae sheets affixed to rocks for their constant grazing in between feedings.

Aquarium Care

The Powder Brown Tang needs a lot of food, so there is a large bio-load on the aquarium. A large tank is important for this tang with clean, stable water conditions, and a smaller tank will foul quickly. Surgeonfish, in general, are not as forgiving as some other fish when it comes to water quality. Regular water changes done bi-weekly or monthly will help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up. A suggested guideline is to keep up with your water testing, which will tell you when your tank needs a water change.

  • Fish only tanks:
    • Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable, can be changed 15% bi-weekly to 30% monthly, depending on bioload.
  • Reef tanks:
    • Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 10% bi-weekly to 20% monthly, depending on bioload.

For more information on maintaining a saltwater aquarium see: Saltwater Aquarium Basics: Maintenance. A reef tank will require specialized filtration and lighting equipment. Learn more about reef keeping see: Mini Reef Aquarium Basics.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly - Water changes of 10% every 2 weeks in a reef setting, with 15% bi-weekly to 30% monthly in a fish only tank.

Aquarium Setup

The Powder Brown Tang can be kept in a fish only tank or a reef environment. Like with other surgeonfish, the tank should be at least 6 months old so it is stable and established. This fish is very active, always on the go, and constantly picking at algae on the decor. A minimum sized tank of 100 gallons is suggested, but they usually do better in larger aquariums because they need lots of room to swim. A larger 125 gallon tank that is 6 feet long is even better for their deep-bodied shape and swimming needs.

They will swim in all levels of the tank, but need open areas on the upper levels to swim with no obstructions. The mid to lower areas of the tank should be well decorated with rocks and/or corals. To feel secure they also need many nooks and crannies to hide in and to wedge themselves into at night for sleeping. They thrive well in tanks with algae, and this decor will lend itself to algae growth. This fish will not bother corals or invertebrates so it highly useful in a reef environment. However keep corals glued down, as their quick speeds may topple a coral or two.

Tangs produce a lot of waste, so the larger the tank, the easier it is to keep clean. A strong skimmer and good filtration is recommended for long term health. Water movement should be strong. Surgeonfish need an aquarium with plenty of aeration and they love to have the water rushing over their gills at times. A strong current will also help provide good oxygenation. Any substrate is fine, though a sandy substrate to allow them to “blow” the sand with their mouth when searching for foods. Moderate lighting is also fine, yet a stronger lighting will help encourage algae growth. When kept in a reef all factors need to be considered more specifically for the needs of the coral.

They swim non-stop, so do better with a little lower temperatures that also provide more oxygen. Their temperature range should range between 72-78° F (22-26°C). Long term exposure to temperatures of 79-83˚F, according to some experts, may prove detrimental over 4 or 5 months time. They do well at the normal ocean salinity of 1.023 and a pH between 8.1 and 8.4, however both of these qualities, especially the pH should be stable. Avoid activated carbon, since this may be linked to Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE).

  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L) - They usually do better in larger aquariums because they like lots of room to swim. A 125 gallon tank or more, that is 6 foot long, is suggested for long term maintenance.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places - Hiding places are needed to help reduce stress and for them to hide in at night.
  • Substrate Type: Any - They like to blow sand in search of food morsels.
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting - Lighting is needed to provide algae growth on live rock. 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.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 78.0° F (22.2 to 25.6° C) - Lower temperatures help provide higher oxygen levels, which is much needed for these active swimmers.
  • Breeding Temperature: - Unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong - Good current and well oxygenated.
  • Water Region: All - This fish will swim all over the aquarium, spending time in the open water and darting in and out of the rocks and coral. It will sleep in crevices in the rock work at night.

Social Behaviors

The Powder Brown Tang can be kept in either a community fish tank or a reef. It is one of the more peaceful surgeonfish and its moderate behavior makes it a good companion in a community tank. It will not bother any peaceful fish, small or large, and does well with smaller semi-aggressive fish like clownfish. They will not bother even the smallest, most peaceful goby, blenny or other peaceful fish. They ignore anthias, fairy and flasher wrasses and even large peaceful fish.

It can be kept with a variety of tank mates but will be aggressive towards others of its own genus. The only possible exceptions to adding another Acanthurus are when the tank is very large, the tangs are adding at the same time as juveniles, and the other Acanthurus is also relatively peaceful. This sometimes works if they are both female, however sex is hard to tell when they are juveniles. Usually they will become aggressive towards others in their genus as they mature.

Depending on the individual, it may get along with some of the other genera of peaceful surgeonfish, but will still have trouble with any aggressive tangs, often becoming the victim. 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 a surgeonfish together with a 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 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. Preferably, the White-faced Surgeonfish should be the only tang and the largest fish in the tank, so they don't stress and stay healthy.

The key is a stress free environment with no competition for foods from other herbivores. Small dwarf angelfish that are more mellow, like the Coral Beauty, should be fine. Large angelfish should not be housed with your White-faced Surgeonfish unless they are planktivores, who will not complete for vegetable foods..

The only other fish they have trouble with are more aggressive fish of any size and many larger semi-aggressive fish, especially those that eat the same foods. Aggressive tangs like the Sohal Tang, Clown Tang, Triggers, Lionfish, Groupers, Puffers and other larger and more aggressive fish should be left out of the equation when putting tank mates together. Avoid even smaller aggressive fish including dottybacks and aggressive clowns like Maroon Clownfish, unless the tank is hundreds of gallons.

The great thing about this tang, is that it is fine in a reef setting with corals, and it will graze on the algae. A White-faced Surgeonfish may nip at Large Polyp Stony Corals (LPS), but aquarists that feed their tang properly will not run into this problem. At times this "nipping" at LPS is just the tang picking at the algae at the base of the coral, which is a great service to the coral!

Invertebrates are not at risk, however, a copepod or amphipod may be eaten here or there while the tang grazes on the algae in which they live. On a rare occasion, an occasional tang will find the slime that clams produce quite tasty. While the tang is not biting the clam, the action causes the clam to close often, stressing the clam and eventually this stress will kill the clam. This shouldn't be a problem with a well fed tang.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive - Although considered semi-aggressive, this is one of the most peaceful tangs toward all other non-tang fish.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: No - Only possible exceptions are in a the tank is very large (10 feet long), 2 juveniles from different Acantharus species that do not look alike in color, and they are added at the same time.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Aggressive (dottybacks, 6-line & 8-line wrasse, damselfish): Monitor - Certain aggressive dottybacks and damselfish will pick on a young Tang and stress them out unless the tank is hundreds of gallons.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor - In the minimum tank size, this should be the only tang, and then only tangs from another genera in a tank that is hundreds of gallons. Only keep it with large angelfish that are planktivores. Large wrasses will not bother your Tang, however the constant swimming may stress your tang out.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (seahorses, pipefish, mandarins): Monitor - Seahorses and most pipe fish need their own tank. Mandarins will not be bothered.
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones - Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Monitor - Should not bother LPS if well fed.
    • SPS corals: Safe
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Safe
    • Zoanthids - Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Safe
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Safe
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Monitor - A rare tang will nibble on the slime clams produce, causing the clam to close and stress.
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The White-faced Surgeonfish female is larger than the male.

Breeding / Reproduction

Breeding the Powder Brown Tang will probably will not be accomplished any time soon. Surgeonfish are a challenge to breed and rear in captivity. Successful breeding could only be accomplished in a very large display aquarium, and the larvae have proven very difficult to rear. Most home aquarists will not have a tank large enough to encourage spawning with surgeonfish.

For the last couple of decades there have been efforts in French Polynesia to collect the larvae of some species as it settles, and then rear the young. Also breeding a few species such as the Yellow Tang Zebrasoma flavescens, Regal Tang Paracanthurus hepatus, and the Naso Tang Naso lituratus has been attempted. But neither of these methods have had sufficient success for commercial production. The difficulty starts after the eggs hatch. In the pelagic larval stage they are very small and easily damaged, followed by a very long planktonic larval stage, and then the fry are very slow growing.

These fish have spawned in captivity in public aquariums (or very very large tanks), however, there hasn't been success in raising the larvae into viable fish. Though the White-face Surgeonfish has not yet been bred in captivity, this species has been observed performing group spawnings in the ocean. Usually in the evening these fish will form a group and spawn in the open water, scattering fertilized eggs.

Each egg measures around 0.17 mm in diameter. These little floating fertilized eggs are spherical and have a single oil globule to aid in their buoyancy and dispersal, thus making them pelagic. In 26 hours they hatch into little clear larvae 2 millimeters in length. The larvae look like little kites with a long snout with a small mouth. After a few days then evolve into a post larvae stage called “acronurus”. They stay in this state for 42 to 68 days. During this time, they fall prey to fish and other marine animals.

Over several weeks time they gradually evolve, changing into juveniles at 20 mm. Once they reach around 1 inch, give or take (23 to 33 mm), the juveniles leave the water column and seek the protection and food sources of the reef and sea grass habitats. See the description in the Breeding Marine Fish: Tangs for more about how they reproduce in the wild.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

The Acanthurus species are generally hardy once acclimated. However they do need a proper environment and tankmates, and the water quality needs to be pristine and stable, or they can suffer any disease that captive saltwater environments have to offer. They will succumb to illness quickly in a less than optimal environment. Common ailments include bacterial diseases, Head and Lateral Line Erosion HLLE (called Hole-in-the-Head Disease in other species), and parasitic infections such as protozoas (including Cryptocaryon), worms, etc.

Although they can be quite durable, Surgeonfish are prone to skin diseases. They produce less body slime than other saltwater fish and have been termed “dry skinned” fish by some. This makes them susceptible to Marine Ich or White Spot Disease Cryptocaryon irritans and Marine Velvet or Velvet Disease Oodinium ocellatum. Both of these are parasites. Surgeonfish are also susceptible to nutritional disorders which may cause color loss and HLLE (head and lateral line disease) which may be caused by poor water quality, unsuitable habitat conditions, lack of endogenous (internal) vitamins, and activated carbon.

Symptoms of Marine Ich are constant scratching, culminating with lots of white dots. Some refer to them as "Ich Magnets" because they are the first fish to exhibit signs of illness. Marine Ich results in the fish suffocating from the parasites blocking their gills, keeping them from providing oxygen. Marine Velvet is a parasitic skin flagellate. Symptoms are a peppery coating giving a yellow to light brown "dust" on body, clamped fins, respiratory distress (breathing hard as seen as frequent or quick gill movements), cloudiness of eyes, glancing off decor or substrate, and possible weight loss.

In the wild a cleaner wrasse (Labroides spp.) 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.

For treatment in captivity, the best routine is a quarantine tank. Provide a stress free environment with good quality foods, places to hide, and a quiet area for the aquarium. For external parasites you can slowly increasing the temperature of your tank to at least 82° F (28° C). That will prevent the parasite from completing its life cycle which includes the attachment to fish. A further combination of the higher temperatures with medicated food will provide timely relief. Some tangs are sensitive to copper because they have an important microfauna in their digestive system, so prolonged or continuous use of a copper treatment is not advisable. It is also said that pellets soaked in garlic may help fend off Marine Ich.

Parasites on marine fish kept with live rock or in any type of reef environment can be extremely difficult to treat. Typical treatments like copper and formalin solutions, as well as quinine based drugs are harmful to other marine creatures. However drugs such as metronidazole provide an effective and safe treatment for several protozoan and anaerobic bacterial diseases. Metronidazole works by ceasing the growth of bacteria and protozoa. Metronidazole is an antibiotic for anaerobic bacteria with anti-protozoal properties. This drug is reef safe, and medications are either added to the water or mixed with the fish food. Some available products that contain metronidazole include Seachem Metronidazole, Seachem AquaZole, Thomas Laboratories' Fish Zole and National Fish Pharmaceutical's Metro-Pro.

Providing a vitamin supplement (including vitamin C) can help provide for their nutritional needs, and vitamin C can help reduce Lateral Line Erosion (LLE). Enriching foods can be done by soaking dried pellets with liquid vitamins or adding vitamins to frozen and fresh foods. Although somewhat less effective, adding a liquid vitamin into the water can also work. Some hobbyists also report success with supplemental foods such as previously boiled or frozen zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and leaf lettuce. Some hobbyists also report success with offerings of supplemental foods such as previously boiled or frozen zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and leaf lettuce. For more information on diseases that saltwater tangs are susceptible to, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Powder Brown Tang, also called the White-face Surgeonfish or Japan Surgeonfish, is often available online and in stores, and is moderately expensive.


Author: Clarice Brough CFS, Carrie McBirney
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Lastest Animal Stories on White-faced Surgeon

Matt - 2010-02-19
I might have a problem, I HOPE NOT. I've got a 135 set up, been going for about 5 years now. I do water changes, pull the coral at different times and bleach it, take out 1/3 of the crushed coral, and replace it every 6-9 months, What I'm saying is the tank is doing good. NOW my problem, my local retailer had, I say HAD a white faced(powder Brown tang in his store for about 3 weeks, eats great, looks great. He gave me a deal, 25 bucks. I brought it home, put it in my quarrantine tank. It's been there about 3 weeks. I'm ready to put in the big tank, and it hit me.....There is a Scopas tang in there. Are they going to fight?

  • Anonymous - 2015-10-15
    Is it true😁😲😩😵😮😆
Luis Rosario - 2011-07-27
I just purchased a White-faced Surgeonfish. Now I have a Sail-fin tang in the tank as well. Sailfin is constantly chasing the Surgeonfish. Are Sail-fin territorial? Will the Sail-fin continue, till it harm the White-faced Surgeonfish or will they get along in time? Thank u.

  • Paul - 2011-08-29
    The size matters here. Tank size and addition timing as well. The A. Japonicus will be more timid, and bullied by other tangs. I had mine just over a year, and just got rid of it, as it developed coral grazing habits in an undersized system, waiting on a larger build. So I'm afraid to add it to the new tank. It was the only lg fish in the tank out of a total of 3 fish. One being a chromis, and the other a blenny (LMB). So it was the show fish.

    You might be ok in time. Both are superiorly beautiful! I've owned both.
    But each time, one was the show fish. What you have is like a purple tang with a sailfin, the sailfin will lose to a purple. And a Japonicus will lose to a sailfin. Sexing may also be a problem. Only time will tell. There's not set rule that never breaks.

    Yes the Sailfin will be territorial
  • Michael - 2012-03-09
    I got the same problem before and same fish like you too. well in a couple of days the sailfin will calm down and stop harrassing the white-face. but the best way is ( if possible) you have to take all the fish out from the tank and using the water from the tank , put in a separate container with a heater so the water doesn,t get cold. then you take all the fish out, leave them out for about half an hour together. Keep an eye on them, then put the white-face back in the tank first , leave it in the tank for about another half an hour then you put the sailfin back in and the rest of the other fish if you have any. This is the best solution. Good luck. Hope this helps.
Dhritiman Datta - 2007-12-06
I have one of these in my 200 litre Fish Only tank. He is very aggressive towards my Pakistani Butterfly and Sebae Clown and other fish of its same size! But they are a really hardy species, very rarely attacked by diseases. Just make sure to provide a good amount of green.

Chris Phillips - 2005-12-20
I have had a brown powder tang in my 150 gal reef for 4-5 years. Great Fish and very hardy once established. Not shy at all. Somewhat aggressive towards new tank-mates that are tangs (must isolate them for 3-4 weeks) to prevent the initial fighting. Most beautiful fish in my tank.