With it’s jet black coloring, the Black Longnose Sailfin Tang is a difficult fish to photograph, unless it is swimming in front of some bright decor!

   With just one quick look there is no question why this surgeonfish is called the Black Longnose Sailfin Tang. It is a definite eye catcher with the jet black coloring contrasted by a white spine or scalpel. Like all seven of the sailfin tang species, when the fins of this tang are fully extended its height is about the same as its length, giving it a disk-shaped appearance. Unlike its close relatives however, its has a very long snout. Though all the Zebrasoma species are noted for having an extended snout, the snout on this fish is in fact about 30% of its body length.  The Black Longnose Sailfin Tang grows to 9,” with tangs growing to 80% of their total length within the first 4 to 5 years.  Tangs have a life span of 30 to 45 years (Choat and Axe 1996).   This tang is best left to intermediate aquarists due to the need for a very large tank and proper water parameters. 

Due to its limited natural range, the Black Longnose Sailfin Tang is rather rare in the trade and quite a bit more expensive than the other Zebrasoma species.  The jet black coloration does set this tang apart from the others in it’s genus, however the closest cousin would be the Scopas Tang, which can be a dark brown.  In some areas, these two will interbreed.  The nose on the Scopas Tang is not as long as this fish and the Scopas is ironically one of the cheapest tang in the Zebrasoma genus.  Many owners have noted that the Black Longnose Sailfin Tang seems to swim around much more than others, which emphasizes the need for a much larger tank.  

One of the hardiest of the surgeonfish, it is highly disease resistant and responds well to treatment.  Bold in nature, it will quickly adapt to aquarium fare and is easy to care for once it is settled.  The only barrier between a beginner aquarist and this fish is the needed tank size of 180 gallons.  A juvenile can be kept in a tank that is 75 gallons until it is 4 to 5″ long, then, due to their very active swimming habits, should be moved to the larger tank.  Adding light that will supply them with algae to graze from would be wise even in a fish only tank. 

Like all the sailfin tangs it makes a wonderful addition to the aquarium, especially a community aquarium.  It is relatively peaceful and will get along with a wide variety of like minded tank mates, but should be the last addition to the aquarium.  The only fish that may be intimated by larger fish that are active swimmers are Assessors.  Frogfish and larger groupers will attempt to eat your Black Longnose Sailfin Tang if it is the same size or smaller than these fish.  Avoid very aggressive fish like more aggressive triggers.  Mandarins and all other peaceful fish will not be bothered.  They will not bother corals, although on occassion LPS and Clams will be sampled by a hungry tang.  Inverts are safe.  It must be kept singly and not in pairs unless the tank is hundreds of gallons.  Avoid others same genus and only in hundreds of gallons can you mix with other genus that are not the same size or shape.  Do not house with Sohal Tangs, as they are way too aggressive.  

     The Black Longnose Sailfin Tang is the most active species in this genus.  They grow to a good size and the love to swim and dart around so they will need plenty of space for swimming.  They need a minimum tank length of 6 feet once they are adults, which translates to a minimum tank size of 125 gallons.  They may be kept in a 75 gallon tank until they are 4 to 5,” and then should be moved promptly before they start to develop a bad attitude!  There are some things that the Zebrasoma species have in common with all the surgeonfishes and tangs. They like plenty of water movement to provide an oxygen rich environment rather than a placid aquarium. They are quick and agile swimmers so will need lots of swimming space along with plenty of crevices among corals/ rocks to retreat into and for sleeping at night. 

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Acanthuridae
  • Genus: Zebrasoma
  • Species: rostratum
Black Longnose Sailfin Tang – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 180 gal (681 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 9.0 inches (22.86 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 78.0° F (22.2 to 25.6&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Herbivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

   The Black Longnose Sailfin Tang, Zebrasoma rostratum, was described by Gunther in 1875. They have a much smaller area of distribution than the other Zebrasoma species. Their common names are Black Longnose Sailfin Tang, Black Longnose Tang, Longnose Surgeonfish, and Longnose Tang, which describes their physical features.

   They are found in the South Pacific near a few of the islands chains: the Line Islands such as Palmyra; the French Polynesian island groups of Marquesan, Society, and Tuamoto out to the Pitcaim, America Samoa, and Cook Island; Christmas Island; and Ducie Islands.  This tang inhabits lagoons and protected reefs.  In their natural habitat they are found at depths between 26 to 115 feet (8 – 35 meters), feeding primarily on filamentous algae. They live singly or in pairs.  Juveniles are solitary and very secretive, dwelling in coral gardens. They are very similar to the Scopas Tang Zebrasoma scopas, and co-occurs and interbreeds with them in some areas.

These fish are listed as “Data Deficient” on the IUCN Red List.

  • Scopas or Twotone Tang, Zebrasoma Scopas:  This brown tang has a shorter mouth, however they have been known to interbreed with each other..
  • Yellow Tang , Z. flavescens:  This all yellow tang also has the same shape and has a white peduncle spine. These two species interbreed. 
  • Purple Tang, Z. xanthurum:  This tang also has the same body shape, however it has a purple body and yellow tail fin and pectoral fins. 
  • Scientific Name: Zebrasoma rostratum
  • Social Grouping: Groups – In the wild they can be found in groups. In captivity, one per tank unless it is hundreds of gallons.
  • IUCN Red List: DD – Data Deficient


   The Black Longnose Sailfin Tang has a disk like shaped body similar to all surgeonfish, but it is more similar in appearance to the Scopas or Twotone Tang Z. scopas and the Yellow Sailfin Tang Z. flavescens with a closely shaped body. When the fins of the sailfin tangs are fully extended, the height of these fish is about the same as the length. They also have extended snouts, but unlike the other Zebrasoma species the snout on this fish is exceptionally long, in fact it is about 30% of its body length. The coloring is from a very dark brown to a jet black with faint irregular bluish lines running horizontally along the body. In some areas it is known to hybridize with the Brown Sailfin Tang Z. scopas.
   On each side of the caudal peduncle is a single white spine or “scalpel” used for defense or dominance. When not in use the spine is folded down into a groove. 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.
   It is possible, though unknown if the dark brown variation is a juvenile coloration.  Juveniles typically are not 100% black, but more grey toward the front and black towards the back.  Tangs grow to 80% of their total length within the first 4 to 5 years, and a typical tang life span is 30 to 45 years (Choat and Axe 1996).  The Black Longnose Sailfin Tang can grow to 9″ (22.8 cm).

  • Size of fish – inches: 9.0 inches (22.86 cm)
  • Lifespan: 30 years – 30 to 45 years (Choat and Axe 1996), possibly less in captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

   The Black Longnose Sailfin Tang is a great addition to the marine aquarium and very easy to maintain, but due to their rarity and high price tag they are usually kept by advanced aquarists. It is quite robust and can handle a wide range of water parameters. 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. It can be housed in a fish only tank or in a reef environment as it will not harm corals or invertebrates. It is highly disease resistant and responds well to treatment when ill.
   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 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.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced – Due to expense and specific needs of this fish.

Foods and Feeding

   The Black Longnose Sailfin Tang are primarily herbivores. In the wild they feed almost exclusively on filamentous algae which they scrape from hard surfaces. tomach contents on fishbase.org only reveal algae and nothing else.  This genus can store fat in their body cavities so may go through periods of non-feeding.
   In the aquarium the majority of their intake will be vegetable matter, and they will eat some copepods living within the algae they eat, but they do not need meaty foods as a main meal.  Provide lots of marine algae, prepared frozen formulas containing algae or spirulina, frozen brine and mysid 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. As continuous grazers, they will benefit from this and it will also keep the water quality higher over a longer period of time.
  Having an extra tank to grow macro algae is the best option for free food!  

  • Diet Type: Herbivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – Will ingest some copepods, however meaty foods should be avoided as a main meal.
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet – Natural marine sources are best, such as macro algae and even Nori sheets used to wrap sushi.
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – May eat copepods or other meaty foods living within the algae.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

   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. 

Reef tanks:
-Medium sized up to 90 gallons, perform 15% bi-weekly. 
-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 10% bi-weekly to 20% monthly, depending on bioload.

Fish only tanks:*
-Medium sized up to 90 gallons, perform 20% to 30% monthly depending on bioload. 
-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 20% to 30% every 6 weeks 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. Regular water changes done  bi-weekly will help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up.  

*Note:  If this is the ONLY fish in the tank, with no corals or other fish you can get away 20% monthly.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

   All surgeonfish/ tangs are quick agile swimmers and need lots of open areas. Your Black Longnose Sailfin Tang needs a minimum tank size of 180 gallons as an adult.  Tank should be at least 6 feet in length.  Juveniles should be okay is a 4′ tank that in at least 75 gallons, however they should be moved to the larger tank once they are 4-5″ long.  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, so if housing in a fish only tank, provide lighting to help algae grow for them.  The temperature they prefer is 72 to 78˚F (22 to 26˚C), normal ocean salinity, and a pH that is 8.1 to 8.4.  All of these parameters should be stable and should not fluctuate.   Provide an area of strong linear water flow for them to swim against and be sure the water quality stays high.  They are found on all levels of the tank.  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.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 180 gal (681 L) – Juveniles up to 4 to 5″ can be housed in a 75 gallon tank temporarily.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 78.0° F (22.2 to 25.6&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: – Unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

   The great thing about the Black Longnose Sailfin Tang is that they are fine in a reef setting with inverts and corals, and they will graze on the algae. They can also be kept in a fish only community tank with peaceful tank mates. This fish is mild tempered and gets along with most fish except others of their own genus.
   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.
   You may successfully pair this tang with different genus’ as long as there are no similarities. One example of mixing genus in a large tank without incident would be to house a Naso Tang, Yellow Tang, and a Hippo Tang 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.  While they are young there are less skirmishes, however once they are full grown, the reason for large tanks that hundreds of gallons for multiple tangs becomes evident.  When it comes to housing them with other fish, they are actually quite peaceful and can be housed with clownfish, anthias, small peaceful gobies and larger peaceful fish.  Avoid triggers, puffers, and other aggressive fish, since they can stress the tang out and cause illness.  They don’t swim around with signs saying, “Hey I am TOTALLY stressed out, here!,” but if you watch them posturing and if they seem to try to whack tank mates with their scapel, you can be assured they are stressed. 

   When it comes to corals, they typically leave them alone, except to pick the algae from the bases of hard corals.  On a rare occasion, underfed tangs have been known to pick at some LPS; however, a well fed tang will leave these corals alone.

   Inverts are also quite safe with tangs, however once in a blue moon a tang will develop the taste for a crocea or similar clam, causing them to close up and starve.  Most of the time, a well fed tang will not “look” elsewhere for food.  

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – Peaceful towards non tangs.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – Only in tanks that are hundreds of gallons.
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Monitor – Assessors may be too intimidated by their active swimming.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Monitor – Large damselfish may be too aggressive to a juvenile and subadult.
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Monitor – Do not house with other Zebrasoma.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – These fish, including frogfish and toadfish should be smaller than the tang or it will be eaten.
    • Monitor – They will not bother mandarins and seahorses and pipefish should have their own tank.
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Monitor – They have been known to nip at LPS.
    • SPS corals: Safe
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Monitor – They may occasionally nip if not well fed.
    • Leather Corals: Safe
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Monitor – They may occasionally nip if not well fed.
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor – They may occasionally nip if not well fed.
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Monitor – They have been known to chew through the Feather Dusters tube.
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Monitor – They have been known to nip at clam mantles.
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

   The male Zebrasoma is larger than the female and the males have white setae (hair-like bristles) in front of their peduncular spines.  Females also have larger cloacas (reproductive/intestinal opening) than males 

Breeding / Reproduction

   The Black Longnose Sailfin 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 spawnings in home aquariums, but regular spawnings 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.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Fish Diseases

   Tangs produce less body slime than other saltwater fish and have been termed “dry skinned” fish by some.  This makes them very susceptible to Cryptocaryon (saltwater ich) and other diseases.  The most common ailments are bacterial diseases, Lateral Line Disease, and parasitic infections such as protozoas (including Cryptocaryon), worms, etc.  

   For Crypt, 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.  As for treatment, some tangs are sensitive to copper because they have an important microfauna in their digestive system, soprolonged 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

   Providing a vitamin supplement (including vitamin C) can help provide for their nutritional needs, and vitamin C can help reduce Lateral Line Erosion (LLE) which may be caused by activated carbon. Enriching foods can be done by soaking dried pellets with liquid vitamins, adding vitamins to the food, or adding a liquid vitamin into the water.  Some hobbyists also report success with supplemental foods such as previously boiled or frozen zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and leaf lettuce.

  The best routine is a quarantine tank and a stress free environment with good quality veggie foods, places to hide and a quiet area for the aquarium.  

   For more information see Fish diseases.


   Due to its limited distribution and collection, the Black Longnose Sailfin Tang is rarely available.  It has been seen online around the middle to end of summer.  When they are available they are quite expensive, starting at about $500.00 USD and reaching up to around $900.00 per specimen (summer 2014).


Animal-World References: Marine and Reef

IUCNRedList – Zebrasoma rostratum

Live Aquaria
Black Longnose Tang (Zebrasoma rostratum)

AQUARIUM FISH:Activated carbon affirmed as causative agent for HLLI disease
By Leonard Ho 
Copyright © 2002-2013 by Pomacanthus Publications, LLC, all rights reserved.

AQUARIUM FISH:  Surgeonfishes, A.K.A. the Tangs
By James W. Fatherree, M.Sc.
Copyright © 2002-2013 by Pomacanthus Publications, LLC, all rights reserved.

Fish Hole in the Head Disease
By Neale Monks, Ph.D.Copyright ©2013 I-5 Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved

Growth and longevity in acanthurid fishes; an analysis of otolith increments
Department of Marine Biology, James Cook University, Townsvill, Queensland 4811 Australia
By J. H. Coat and L. M. Axe

Animal Diversity Web
Acanthurus triostegus
Fiveband surgeonfish
By Rex Gamoke
© 2014 Regents of the University of Michigan