Displaying some very unique and conspicuous features, the popular Naso Tang is one of the most attractive surgeonfish!

   The name ‘Naso Tang’ simply describes its genus while its other common names, the Lipstick Tang or Orangespine Unicornfish, touch on its outstanding appearance. Orangish lips and a pair of spines surrounded by a bright orange area on either side of the caudal peduncle are some of the distinct features that make this fish stand out. Along with these add a strong yellow line running from the back of the mouth up to the eye and bold colored stripes on the top and sometimes bottom fin, and you have a true beauty.  They grow to 17.7,” with males being larger and live up to 45 years!  The Naso Tang is best left for intermediate aquarists.

    Like all Naso species, they have the ability to 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. The Naso Tang originates from the west and central Pacific and is very similar to its counterpart the ‘Blonde’ Naso Tang N. elegans which is found in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, but has a yellow dorsal fin.

  Very small babies under 4” and adults are the hardest to acclimate to captivity.  They also need to have a minimum tank size of 180 gallons even as juveniles.  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 Naso tang is a very personable fish that once its comfortable can be trained to accept foods from its keeper’s hand. 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. 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.  

  Like all surgeonfish and tangs, the 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. As they are primarily herbivores they generally ignore invertebrates, but lush natural algae growth will be greatly appreciated. Once they get acclimated and become accustom to aquarium foods they are quite hardy and long lived.

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: Naso
  • Species: lituratus
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)
  • 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 Naso Tang, Naso lituratus, was described by Bloch and Schneider, in 1801.  Often called the Orangespine Unicornfish,   this descibes the two fixed spines or “scalpels” surrounded by bright orange on each side of the caudal peduncle.  Other names that describe their coloring or features or location are Clown Tang, Lipstick Tang, Masked Unicornfish, Naso Tang, Poll Headed Unicornfish, Poll Unicornfish, Redlip Surgeonfish, Smooth Headed Unicornfish, Stripe-Face Unicornfish, Striped-Face Unicornfish, Surgeonfish, and Unicornfish. Having one or two fixed blades are what places the Naso genus in the subfamily Nasinae.

   Naso Tangs are found widespread throughout the western and central Pacific;  Honshu, Japan south to the Great Barrier Reef, New Caledonia and east to the Hawaiin Islands, French Polynesia and Pitcairn Islands. They are also found around Clipperton Island in the Eastern Pacific.  Naso Tang adults are found in areas where there is rock, coral, or rubble in seaward reefs and lagoons.  Juveniles are found in shallow rocky reefs.  They can be found as deep as 295 feet (90 meters), but are most often found in depths of 16 to 98 feet (5 – 30 meters) feeding mostly on leafy brown algae like Sargassum and Dictyota (not to be confused Toyota).  Adults are typically found in small groups and pair off to spawn.  Juveniles are found alone, however they join small groups of similarly sized tangs to feed.

    Its counterpart the ‘Blonde’ Naso Tang, Naso elegans, is found in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.  Other than place of origin, these two differ primarily in color. The most obvious difference is a yellow dorsal fin on the Blonde Naso Tang.  The Blonde Naso Tang was previously considered to be a color variety of Naso lituratus, but is now described as a separate species. However, some authors still consider them to be the same species.

  The Naso Tang is on the IUCN Red List for Least Concern, however they do warn that the numbers collected for the marine trade should be monitored.

  • Scientific Name: Naso lituratus
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


   The Naso Tang, Lipstick Tang, or Orangespine Unicornfish 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. There is a pale yellow area just above the eye and the lips are orangish. The dorsal fin has boldly colored horizontal stripes beginning with black along the bottom and also on the front part of the fin and white on the top of the remaining fin. There is a blue outer edge stripe and another blue stripe along the base. The caudal fin has a thin yellow band along the very end and males develop beautiful elongated filaments or streamers from each corner.  Male adults reach 17.7 inches (45 cm), however females are smaller.  Naso Tangs can live from 30 to 45 years.

Dr. Jungle asks,… “Will the real ‘Naso Tang’ please swim forward!’

Picture of a 'Blonde' Naso Tang or Indian Orangespine Unicornfish - Naso elegans
Naso elegansBlonde Naso Tang
Indian Orangespine Unicornfish

   The Naso Tang Naso lituratus is found in the western and central Pacific. Its counterpart the ‘Blonde’ Naso Tang Naso elegans, is found in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
   Other than place of origin, these two differ primarily in color. The most obvious difference is a yellow dorsal fin on the Blonde Naso Tang.
   The Blonde Naso Tang was previously considered to be a color variety of Naso lituratus, but is now described as a separate species. However, some authors still consider them to be the same species.

Picture of a Naso Tang, Lipstick Tang, or Pacific Orangespine Unicornfish - Naso lituratus
Naso lituratusNaso Tang
Pacific Orangespine Unicornfish

  • 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

   Like most of the species in this genus of Naso, the Naso Tang presents a few challenges and should be kept by intermediate aquarists.  First, 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, tiny juveniles less than 4” and large adults can be a little challenge to acclimate to aquarium life.  Provide 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 the Naso Tang can be quite hardy, long lived, and easy to maintain as long as sufficient space is provided.  Too small of an environment can stunt their growth, cause health problems, and will cause them to have ‘behavioral problems.’  A healthy Naso 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, and if this is not resolved or they are stressed for too long they may not recover. They 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 is 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.

   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. Fortunately the Naso Tang is very tough and is are not as likely to develop Marine Ich as many of the other species. Just the same, they 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.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy – Juveniles under 4″ and larger adults have a harder time adjusting.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – Due to large tank size.

Foods and Feeding

   The Naso Tang is an herbivore, feeding mainly on benthic algae such as leafy brown algae like Sargassum and Dictyota in the wild.  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 copepods and amphipods that live in the algae.  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 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.

  • Diet Type: Herbivore
  • Flake Food: Yes – With Spirulina added.
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes – With Spirulina added.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – To entice them to eat you can try mysis.
  • Vegetable Food: All of Diet – Brown Algae is their favorite!
  • Meaty Food: Unknown – While stomach contents only showed veggie matter, they still will eat some meaty foods, but should not be given an excessive amount.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day

Aquarium Care

   A  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.

  • 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.   I can attest to this because I had a little 4” baby grow to almost 10” within 14 months!  I was a newbie back in 2005 and had no idea how fast tangs grew!  Someone was happy to buy my Naso Tang since they had a large tank and needed another big fish!  Keeping them in a smaller tank will mean having to move them within a year.  If your Naso Tang is only 2″ to 3″ then a 75 gallon tank will be fine for about 6 months to a year, however Naso Tangs that small are not hardy and are a challenge to keep alive.  Keep in mind that too small of an environment can stunt their growth and they will develop ‘behavioral problems’ such as aggression and will also experience health issues.  

   Provide plenty of space for swimming, especially for adult specimens, along with lots of rocks other decorative items 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) – Much needed 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 Naso Tang, like others in their family are considered semi-aggressive, but they are peaceful towards most non-tang fish.  Naso Tangs, however, are one of the more aggressive of the Naso species, so do not house two Naso 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 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 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 most non-tangs.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Sometimes – Only if tank is 500 gallons or more.
    • 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
    • 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 that are at least 300 gallons.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Monitor – As long as the 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: Monitor – Should not bother LPS if well fed.
    • 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 rogue tang will find the slime clams produce yummy, causing the clam to close and stress.
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: 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: TangsPicture of a Naso Tang, Lipstick Tang, or Orangespine Unicornfish - Naso lituratus

  • 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, Hole-in-the-Head Disease or Lateral Line Disease, and parasitic infections such as protozoa (including Cryptocaryon), worms, etc.  

   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.  

   For more information see Fish diseases.


  The Naso Tang, also known as the Lipstick Tang or Orangespine Unicornfish, are regularly available at retailers. They are priced starting at around $30.00 USD and up.


Animal-World References – Marine and Reef