This beautiful ‘Blonde’ Naso Tang is every bit as hardy as its Pacific counterpart, only more rare and a bit more expensive! 

Both the Blonde Naso Tang, and its close cousin the Naso Tang are called the Orangespine Unicornfish. This comes from the pair of spines surrounded by a bright orange area on either side of the caudal peduncle. These are some of the most attractive and distinctive of the unicornfish with strong patterning and color accents over a light to dark gray body, depending on the location of the fish in the water column. The Blonde Naso Tang, originating from the Red Sea and Indian Ocean is more rare as it is not quite as widespread as its very similar counterpart the Naso Tang.  They grow to up to about 18″ and can live to 30 to 45 years (Choat and Axe, 1996).  This large tang is best left to intermediate aquarists due to tank size.

The Blonde Naso tang, also known as the Elegant Tang, is a very personable pet fish. Once it is comfortable it can even be trained to accept foods from its keeper’s hand.  As stated above, the Naso Tang (N. literatus) is similar except for coloring.  The Naso Tang, also affectionately called the Lipstick Tang because of it’s bright lips, has a black dorsal fin rather than yellow and is found in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.  Most people opt for the Blonde Naso Tang because of it’s unique appearance, and now I can interject, “Yes, Blonde Naso Tangs do have more fun!” since they are more likely to be purchased!  When angry, about to fight or fighting, they turn completely dark.  When frightened or sleeping, they will hide and turn a mix of gray and dark, yet when being cleaned by a cleaner wrasse, they will lighten to a silver gray.  Lastly, they tend to have blue hues in the water column in the wild and change their coloring to better match the rock and substrate when they are in lower levels of the reef.  

A little shy at first, it can be hard to acclimate to aquarium life.  Provide it with lots of room to roam around in and some live rock with naturally growing algae and/ or blanched lettuce and brine shrimp to entice it to eat. Once eating it can be offered a variety of algae based aquarium fare for its basic diet, along with some meaty foods.  Once they get acclimated and become accustom to aquarium foods they are quite hardy and long lived.  Tanks that are smaller can cause behavioral problems as they become adults. 

Being a peaceful fish with an amicable nature, it will get along with most other marine fish. Though it can be kept with a variety of tank mates this species has been known to get aggressive with other surgeonfish, especially those of its own genus. Unless you have a huge (hundreds of gallons) system, it is best to house just one Naso tang to a tank.  They get along with all fish except very aggressive triggers or fish that can swallow them whole (as juveniles).  Assessors may be too timid due to their large size and swimming habits.  Since Blonde Naso Tangs are primarily herbivores they generally ignore invertebrates, but lush natural algae growth will be greatly appreciated and nicely suited for a reef environment.  A rare specimen may taste the slime that LPS and clams produce, however, this is only done by a hungry tang.  

Like all surgeonfish and tangs, the Blonde Naso Tang likes a lot of water turbulence rather than a placid aquarium. Being very active during the day they need a large tank with plenty of room to swim about but will also need rocks/corals to provide some cover and to sleep in at night.  Be sure to provide larger crevices for them to sleep in as they get older.  The lower end of their spectrum of temperature will have more oxygen, which is necessary for this active swimmer.  Tangs love to swim toward power heads to get that water “rush,” so provide at least one area in the tank that they can do this.  The back of the tank is best suited if you have corals and don’t want them blown all over the place.  They will occupy all areas of the tank and are one of the tangs that have been known to jump, so egg crate that is weighted down, especially once full grown is suggested. 

Scientific Classification

Species: elegans

Blonde Naso Tang – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:180 gal (681 L)
Size of fish – inches:17.7 inches (44.96 cm)
Temperature:72.0 to 78.0° F (22.2 to 25.6&deg C)
Range ph:8.1-8.4
Diet Type: Herbivore
Blonde naso tang
Image Credit: Brandy McKnight, Shutterstock

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Blonde Naso Tang, Naso elegans, was described by R{uuml}ppell in 1829.   Their common names are Blone Naso Tang, Blonde Lipstick Tang, Elegant Unicornfish, Indian Orange-Spine Unicorn, Orange-Spine Unicorn, Orangespine Unicornfish, and Smoothheaded Unicornfish.  This last name, Smoothheaded Unicornifish indicates that they do not grow “horns” like others in their genus.  They were previously considered to be a color variety of the Naso Tang N. lituratus, which is widespread throughout the Western and Central Pacific.

Widespread throughout the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, they are found in the south to Durban, South Africa and east through the islands of the western Indian Ocean to Bali in southwestern Indonesia. There are no reports of them in the Gulf of Oman, Persian Golf, or India.  They are found above coral rocks and rubble in coastal and inner reef flats and reef slopes.   In their natural habitat they are found at depths between 16 – 295 feet (5 – 90 meters), feeding on benthic algae and weeds.  Blonde Naso Tangs occasionally occur singly or in pairs, but most often in small and occasionally large groups.  Juveniles occur in groups, sometimes mixed with other similar sized acanthurids among shallow rocky reefs.  

These fish are listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern.

  • Scientific Name: Naso elegans
  • Social Grouping: Solitary
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Blonde Naso Tang or Elegant Tang has an elongated body shape with a narrower caudal peduncle; features that distinguish this genus from other Acanthurids. Unlike other unicornfish they do not develop a protruding horn. They have a grayish brown body with a strong yellow line running from the back of the mouth up to the eye. The snout and in front of this line is black, and the lips are orangish. There is a pale yellow area just above the eye that continues back on to the dorsal fin, becoming a broad horizontal strip along its entire length. Just below this yellow stripe is a narrow black stripe underscored with a bold white stripe. The ventral and anal fins are dusky colored. All three of these fins are thinly edged in white on the outer margin. The caudal fin develops beautiful elongated filaments or streamers from each corner.

Like all Naso species, they can quickly and dramatically change, depending on mood or environment. When excited or hiding in the reef their body can become almost black with gray splotchy patches.  When angry, becoming aggressive and fighting they turn completely dark, and when being cleaned by cleaner fish, they turn completely pale to allow cleaner wrasses do to a more thorough job at cleaning them.  The tangs in this genus have been observed changing coloring to match the color of the substrate or rock work they are near.  While in the open water, they have more blue hues and will switch to colors that are better suited to match the substrate.

Its name ‘orangespine’ is derived from the two fixed spines or “scalpels” surrounded by bright orange on either side of the caudal peduncle. 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 to avoid injuring their scalpel.  Males are larger than females and have a larger caudal peduncle and long streamers at the tips of the tail fin.  Males are also known to flash intense colorations while courting females.  These fish grow up to almost 18″ (45 cm).  They reach 80% of their growth, or 14.4 in the first 5 1/4 years of their life. (in the wild, it may take less time), and the average life expectancy is 35 years (Choat and Axe, 1996).

  • Size of fish – inches: 17.7 inches (44.96 cm) – Females smaller
  • Lifespan: 30 years – 30 to 45 years (Choat and Axe 1996), possibly less in captivity.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Blonde Naso Tang is best kept by intermediate aquarists due to the needed tank size.  The minimum tank size is 180 gallons (681 liters), and due to the fact that they will reach over 14″ by the time they are 5.25 years old (about 3″ per year), starting them in that size tank would be best.  A little shy at first, it can be hard to acclimate to aquarium life. Provide it with lots of room to roam around in and some live rock with naturally growing algae and/ or blanched lettuce and brine shrimp to entice it to eat. Once eating it can be offered a variety of algae based aquarium fare for its basic diet, along with some meaty foods. The Blonde Naso Tang can be quite hardy, long lived, and easy to maintain as long as sufficient space is provided.

They must be housed in a large tank as too small of an environment can stunt their growth and they can develop ‘behavior problems’. A healthy unicornfish 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 vigorous water turbulence along with consistency, not only in water conditions and quality, but also in decor and fellow inhabitants.

All of the species in the Naso genus are continuous feeders and they need to be provided a proper diet. They are susceptible disorders which may cause color loss and LLD (lateral line disease) which can also be caused by activated carbon. 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: Intermediate – Due to the need for a very large tank that most beginners lack.

Foods and Feeding

The Blonde Naso Tangs are primarily herbivores. In the wild they feed mainly on benthic algae, leafy brown algae like Sargassum and Dictyota. Provide lots of algae, prepared frozen formulas containing algae or spirulina, and flakes. Japanese Nori or other seaweed can be adhered to the aquarium glass with a vegetable clip. It will also feed on some frozen brine and mysis shrimp, mosquito larvae, grindal worms, tubifex, and Enchytaeidae. Live rock with heavy algae growth will be greatly appreciated as it will allow this fish to constantly scrape with its rasping teeth. Feed at least 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 reduce Lateral Line Erosion (LLE), which has been possibly linked to activated carbon. 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.

  • Diet Type: Herbivore
  • Flake Food: Yes – Flake with spirulina added.
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes – Tablets that sink with spirulina added.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – As a treat
  • Vegetable Food: Most of Diet – Best foods are macro algae, algae sheets, Nori and spirulina based foods.
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet – They do need some meaty foods like mysis and fortified brine shrimp.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Hang an algae sheet or Nori in the tank in between feedings.
Blonde Naso Tang
Image Credit: Arunee Rodloy, Shutterstock

Aquarium Care

A Blonde Naso Tang is very active and constantly moving, it will spend a good deal of its time in the open water. They may jump out of an open aquarium, so be sure to have a lid.

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.Fish only tanks:*
-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.

For more information see, Marine Aquarium Basics: Maintenance

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

A minimum tank size of 180 gallons is needed by the time this tang is 4 to 5″ which is usually the purchase size.  They grow about 3″ a year in their first 5 years, reaching over 14″ by the time they are 5 years old.   Keeping them in a smaller tank will mean having to move them within a year.  If your Blond Naso Tang is only 2″ to 3″ then a 75 gallon tank will be fine for about 6 months to a year.  Keep in mind that too small of an environment can stunt their growth and they can develop ‘behavior problems’.   Provide a large tank with plenty of space for swimming, especially for adult specimens, along with lots of rocks/ corals to provide some cover and for sleeping. This decor will lend itself to algae growth which these fish will enjoy grazing on.   In nature it is found in sunlit zones. 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.  Temperatures need to be kept stable and somewhere between 72 – 79° F (23 – 26° C) and pH between 8.1 to 8.4.  All surgeonfish need an aquarium with plenty of aeration and a strong current that they will face into since they love to have water rushing over their gills!  This will help to provide good oxygenation which they need due to their active swimming habits.  They are found at all levels of the tank, and will spend time in the open water constantly moving and grazing.   Tanks will sleep in crevices or caves by spreading their fins and “locking” themselves in at night.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 180 gal (681 L) – Starting them out in this size tank is the best choice since they grow so fast.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places – Provide crevices and caves slightly bigger than they are so they can wedge themselves in at night.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Enough to grow natural algae.
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 78.0° F (22.2 to 25.6&deg C) – Oxygen is more abundant at lower temperatures.
  • Breeding Temperature: – unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong – Tangs like to face linear power heads to increase oxygen dosage!
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Blonde Naso Tang, like others in their family are considered semi-aggressive, but they are peaceful towards most non-tang fish.  Blonde Naso Tangs, however, are one of the more aggressive of the Naso species, so do not house two Blonde Lipstick Tangs or regular Lipstick Tangs in the same tank unless it is 500 gallons or more.  What about other tangs?  Easy!  Make a list of tangs you like, figure out what foods they prefer and choose tangs that have different habits since that will help everyone feel less threatened.  For example, one may eat detritus so they will be cool with a green algae eater and a brown algae eater; however, 2 detritus eaters will probably squabble quite a bit.  Separate from this list only one from each genus, then choose colors that are different and lastly, make sure they are of the same temperament.  Now that that is all figured out, purchase them all as little babies that are 4,” quarantine them and add them to a tank that is over 300 gallons at the same time.   This will lessen aggression, and make your tank a happy place to live!  Introducing a new surgeonfish into an aquarium that already houses one or more is usually a problem.  Only have a 180 gallon?  Then stick to one tang, the awesome Blonde Naso or Lipstick Tang!

When it comes to other fish they are generally peaceful and amicable which also makes them an excellent addition to a community aquarium.  One of the few fish that may not work with this big softy are very shy fish that are afraid of larger fish.  One example are Assessors, since they may feel too threatened by such a large fish and may wither away as it “hides to death.”  A large grouper or large eel can eat a smaller tang, so avoid housing them together unless the tang stays larger than the grouper at all stages of BOTH fish’s life spans.  Toadfish will also try to eat them!  Avoid pipefish, seahorses and frogfish since they are best kept separately in their own tanks. 

The great thing about the Blonde Naso Tang is that they are fine in a reef setting with corals, and they will graze on the algae. Although literature states that a rouge tang will nip at large-polyp stony corals, most aquarists to feed their tang properly will not run into this problem.  Don’t confuse picking at corals with them picking at any algae at the base of a stony coral, which was a great service to the coral!

Inverts 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 – Peaceful toward non-tangs.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: No
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Safe – Assessors will be too intimidated and will not come out.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe – Only house with different genus of tangs that are different colors and shapes and in larger tanks.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – As long as the Blonde Naso Tang is larger than all of these fish, including frogfish. Toadfish will attempt to eat them. Avoid aggressive triggerfish.
    • Monitor – Mandarins will be fine, however frogfish, pipefish and seahorses should be kept in their own tank.
    • 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 very RARE tang will find the slime clams produce yummy, causing the clam to close and stress.
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe
Blond Naso Tang fish
Image Credit: Bonnie Taylor Barry, Shutterstock

Sexual differences

Males are larger, have a more pronounced caudal peduncle (thick area before the tail fin where the scalpel is located), and have long streamers from the top and bottom of the ends of their tail fins. 

Breeding / Reproduction

Males will flash their coloring while courting females, producing an intense color throughout the body.  They also change color during displays between females and rival males.  Although they swim in loose schools, pairs will break away and spawn along the fringes of these feeding schools especially during the new and full moon.  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.

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 more information on breeding and the development of the fry, see: Marine Fish Breeding: Tangs

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult

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, Hole-in-the-Head Disease, 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.  

As for treatment, some tangs are sensitive to copper.  To avoid Lateral Line Disease, avoid using activated carbon, as it has been scientifically linked to those diseases, keep water quality high, feed high quality food and ensure there isn’t any stray voltage.  The best routine when first acquiring them is a quarantine tank and a stress free environment with good quality veggie foods, places to hide and a quiet area for the aquarium.  


The Blonde Naso Tang, also known as the Elegant Tang or Indian Orangespine Unicornfish, are regularly available at retailers. They are priced starting at around $50.00 USD and up. (2014)

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 Naso elegans (Image Credit: Fernando Losada Rodríguez, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)