Tang Aggression - Understanding and Combating

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vetteguy53081

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Tangs will be forever trying and semi- aggressive. they feed well and offer great colors and patterns.
Well written 4FordFamily !!
 
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Oooooof I stand corrected. Fed algae- at 20 seconds into the video, the new Scopa and Sohol get into a fight.

That’s actually pretty mild, your Sohal tang ended up backing down. You’re lucky with that Sohal! :)
 
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Tangs will be forever trying and semi- aggressive. they feed well and offer great colors and patterns.
Well written 4FordFamily !!
Thanks sir! :)
 

Philt56

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I have a young powder blue with a fuzzy dwarf lion and filefish fish. I tried adding a heniocus and the bag was attacked as soon as it hit the water. Put it an acclimation box and placed a mirror and the pbt settled a bit but after a week I tried introducing the heniocus and forget it. Lost his huge “banner”. I put him in my reef and luckily he’s not into any of my corals and is doing great.

Any ideas on how a Harlequin Tusk would do if it’s the same size as the tang?
 
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I have a young powder blue with a fuzzy dwarf lion and filefish fish. I tried adding a heniocus and the bag was attacked as soon as it hit the water. Put it an acclimation box and placed a mirror and the pbt settled a bit but after a week I tried introducing the heniocus and forget it. Lost his huge “banner”. I put him in my reef and luckily he’s not into any of my corals and is doing great.

Any ideas on how a Harlequin Tusk would do if it’s the same size as the tang?
You can beer know for sure, I’ve seen PBT attack anything and everything. A tusk would be a much lower risk fish, however. No guarantees but I bet it works :)
 

Ferrell

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Very good article. My experience with tangs is very limited but the YE Kole is becoming a menace to my lawnmower blenny and I think he’s going to have to make a trip back to the pet store. My yellow tang is the tank boss and she doesn’t put up with him and will even defend the blenny from time to time.
 

Philt56

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You can beer know for sure, I’ve seen PBT attack anything and everything. A tusk would be a much lower risk fish, however. No guarantees but I bet it works :)
Thanks, the tang went in after the lion and filefish but I would doubt they are of interest to him even if he was first. The tang definitely can chase down the food before the lion but he is amazingly used to grabbing any frozen food that goes in the tank.
 

Heather R

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ADVICE NEEDED!

We have a super aggressive Powder Brown Tang. He was added last week. He is the only Tang in our 90 gallon set up. Other inhabitants include a Foxface, Engineer Goby, Firefish, Mandarin and a cleaner shrimp.

He seems to hate the Foxface but he ignores the others for the most part...

We have 100 plus pounds of rock in the set up, he's had a ton of algae to eat (we had an outbreak of hair algae that he's destroyed in a week. We also have the store bought dried algae on a clip 24 hours a day right now. We feed frozen in the evening.

We've removed him for a short time & redesigned the rock scape hoping to get him to calm down bit it didn't work.

Currently he is spending hours a day fighting himself in a mirror we've put up. He is leaving the Foxface alone now for the most part but I'd love to get rid of the mirror. It's driving my o.c.d. crazy lol.

Our set up :)
20190619_110341.jpg
20190619_110341.jpg


20190619_092209.jpg
 
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ADVICE NEEDED!

We have a super aggressive Powder Brown Tang. He was added last week. He is the only Tang in our 90 gallon set up. Other inhabitants include a Foxface, Engineer Goby, Firefish, Mandarin and a cleaner shrimp.

He seems to hate the Foxface but he ignores the others for the most part...

We have 100 plus pounds of rock in the set up, he's had a ton of algae to eat (we had an outbreak of hair algae that he's destroyed in a week. We also have the store bought dried algae on a clip 24 hours a day right now. We feed frozen in the evening.

We've removed him for a short time & redesigned the rock scape hoping to get him to calm down bit it didn't work.

Currently he is spending hours a day fighting himself in a mirror we've put up. He is leaving the Foxface alone now for the most part but I'd love to get rid of the mirror. It's driving my o.c.d. crazy lol.

Our set up :)
20190619_110341.jpg
20190619_110341.jpg


20190619_092209.jpg
That's a pretty neat tank but you have a couple of primary issues.

The first of which is that a powder brown tang needs a 180 gallon tank or larger, on rare occasions a 150 gallon may suffice, so this stresses the fish and leads to more aggressive behavior.

Another factor is that the tank is lightly stocked -- this is a good thing for nutrient export but a bad thing for social behavior for acanthus tangs -- having few tank mates makes it easier for them to fixate and bully/badger other fish. This leads to more territorial behavior.

I don't think this will be rectified without adding more fish than the bioload can handle, but more importantly because the tank is not large enough to accomodate a fish that is immensely active, often covering several miles per day swimming through the ocean. A yellow tang, black tang, scopas tang, purple tang, tomini tang, white tail bristletooth tang, or other smaller tangs not of the acanthurus genus would be a better choice for your tank.

This is probably not what you wanted to hear, but I hope this helps!
 

nereefpat

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Tangs and rabbitfishes are distant cousins, and competitors for food.
The 90 gallon isn't enough space for the PBT to tolerate another similarly shaped fish that it sees as a competitor.

Really neat concept for a stand, btw
 

Heather R

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That's a pretty neat tank but you have a couple of primary issues.

The first of which is that a powder brown tang needs a 180 gallon tank or larger, on rare occasions a 150 gallon may suffice, so this stresses the fish and leads to more aggressive behavior.

Another factor is that the tank is lightly stocked -- this is a good thing for nutrient export but a bad thing for social behavior for acanthus tangs -- having few tank mates makes it easier for them to fixate and bully/badger other fish. This leads to more territorial behavior.

I don't think this will be rectified without adding more fish than the bioload can handle, but more importantly because the tank is not large enough to accomodate a fish that is immensely active, often covering several miles per day swimming through the ocean. A yellow tang, black tang, scopas tang, purple tang, tomini tang, white tail bristletooth tang, or other smaller tangs not of the acanthurus genus would be a better choice for your tank.

This is probably not what you wanted to hear, but I hope this helps!
Thanks for the honest advice.
 
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Thanks for the honest advice.
Absolutely, that's what I am here for.

I love piano fish tanks, I don't see a lot of them! Well-done! :)
 

Heather R

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We do plan to add more fish to the tank, We're just taking it slow. It sounds like we need to rehome this guy :(

We custom built /repurposed the piano tank stand and purchased the 90 gallon tank, sump & rocks from a local hobbyist who had had it up & running for several years.
We figured we would have to cycle again but there wasn't much of one at all. I'm guessing because of all the live rock we have?

We set it back up with new water and sand.
 
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We do plan to add more fish to the tank, We're just taking it slow. It sounds like we need to rehome this guy :(

We custom built /repurposed the piano tank stand and purchased the 90 gallon tank, sump & rocks from a local hobbyist who had had it up & running for several years.
We figured we would have to cycle again but there wasn't much of one at all. I'm guessing because of all the live rock we have?

We set it back up with new water and sand.
Re-cycling with rock and some water/filtration from before can take a couple days to a few weeks in my experience. Much faster, and the "really bad" parts of the cycle are mostly skipped.

I do agree it would be best to re-home the fish. Sorry :(
 
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MnFish1

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So what's the deal with tangs? How do I keep them together? Why are they so aggressive and difficult to keep sometimes? It's a common discussion point. Some may dissent with what I have to share but I've never had less than three tanks running at a time, up to 7, and have been in the hobby ~15 years with 2 of them spent working for an LFS running their saltwater fish dept largely, for what it's worth.

Root of Tang Aggression:
Understand that from a tangs point of view, more herbivores means less algae. They've evolved to defend their patch of algae and territory very hard because they may starve if someone else comes in and takes it over. It's literally life or death for them. Angels and other herbivores are occasionally ousted but tangs in particular are often in direct competition for food and will be heckled heavily. The only herbivore that is tolerated (sometimes) is foxface. This is because they're venomous. Even still I've seen tangs stress them to death literally.

Tangs are often most aggressive to members of the same species in home aquaria and species in the same genus. When not schooling, they often protect a patch of rock from other fish, often other tangs, particularly tangs of the same species. (It is much more likely that they will compete for food since their diet is identical)

Tangs are also more likely to be aggressive in the home aquaria because they are stressed and in smaller quarters. Even the best hobbyists have questionable environments compared to their natural homes in the ocean. Fish that swim several miles each day such as many acanthurus tangs (particularly PBT, Achilles, etc) feel cramped and as with any organism that is stressed, they can respond to this by "acting out" (aggression).

The author keeps quite a few tangs in his own aquarium as you can see in the 2 photos below.


What Does Tang Aggression Look Like?

Tangs are purpose built for eating algae and defending said food source. They're equipped with at least one scalpel near the base of the tail for "swiping" other fish. This is where the name "surgeonfish" came from. These can do a lot of damage and leave serious lascerations. When adding or mixing tangs, be on the lookout for aggression and know when to implement "Plan B". Constant chasing, nipping, and swiping is not a good sign and unlikely to stop. As you'll read later, some species hold grudges forever and others let bygones be bygones on occasion. It's your job as the hobbyist to know when to intervene. Occasional chasing, flaring fins, circling each other, or swiping motions that are clearly a dominance display rather than a true attempt at puncturing the other fish should be noted but are common in a tank mixed with territorial herbivores.

With all of this in mind, your existing tangs are not going to be welcoming.

The degree of aggression the new tangs receive can be curbed by:
1) Keep them very very well fed. Keep enough nori in there that by the end of the day it is gone but they have access to it for most of the day. This will make them feel like they need to compete less, but it's no guarantee.​

2) Re-arrange rockwork. This can be successful because the tang feels like they are no longer in their territory temporarily and may hesitate to be as aggressive as otherwise.

3) Add multiple tangs at a time. Tangs can take some serious abuse, but 3 on 1 new addition is terrible odds. It may work but the new fish will be very stressed and possibly stabbed several times. Even if only one new tang heckled the new tang it would not be a fair fight - a fat established and possibly more aggressive species targeting a fish that has been through heck getting to you and as such has a weak immune system, is thinner presumably because it hasn't eaten as it should, and is very stressed. More tangs will increase distraction and will break up aggression considerably, providing you don't have a tang that singles one of the newcomers out. Powder blue are notorious for picking a grudge and taking it to their grave. Other aggressive species often simmer down in a weeks time. If the fish makes it that long things should get better, presuming they don't succumb to ich or other parasites.

4) Use acclimation boxes. This shields the newcomer from attacks from other fish and gets them used to seeing the new fish. It also allows the new fish to adjust a bit so that it is better able to defend itself and know its surroundings better.

5) Mirrors placed in the corner of the tank. For a very aggressive tang, sometimes a mirror placed in the corners will keep the fish flashing and attacking itself rather than harassing a new addition. I've personally never done this but have heard of some limited success.

6) Removal of the problem fish and a re-introduction later. This can work because the tank pecking order is disrupted. The fish will be confused by the change and work out their own new pecking order and be less concerned with harassing the newcomers. Upon reintroduction some few days or months later, assumedly the new fish will not be the tank boss and will not be as territorial as a result (since it is not his territory now - yet)

7) A combination of these ideas. To hedge your bets, mixing strategies may well be worth the effort.

8) If you are planning to add tangs of the same genus, definitely add more than one. I frequently break the rules with tangs. One tank has a PBT and Achilles tang together, another has a PBT, Achilles, and goldrim together. I even have a pair of achilles together (do NOT try this at home). They get along great. This wasn't easy and some fish had to be moved around and they were added simultaneously most of the time. I've always kept purple, yellow, and sailfins as a trio. Again, adding at the same time. They've always gotten along well. I've done this for 12 years with more than three test groups in various tanks on various occasions.

Adding a yellow to an established purple for instance is likely to end in the death of the yellow. Adding an Achilles to a PBT is often murder.

Notice the 2 Achilles tangs, PBT, and Goldrim together in these two photos.


9) Adding tangs of larger OR smaller size. There is different logic to this theory, both is probably valid. Add larger less aggressive tangs than your most aggressive tang to intimidate it. Again some may not be intimidated... particularly PBT.

Adding smaller tangs may make sense because the existing tang may see them as LESS of a threat for dominance in the pecking order (but still a threat to its food sources...)

Many people have different opinions but the only steadfast rule I follow is not to add tangs of the same exact size unless I am adding them in groups.

Conclusion:

Understand that none of this is fool proof. Powder blue tangs in particular are notorious for holding a permanent grudge. Months of time apart will not work if they have a "personal vendetta" to destroy a fish-- not always a tang, either.

Sohal tangs IME are not nearly as aggressive as people make them out to be. I hypothesize that a few people had terror sohal tangs and their stories keep getting repeated by other members and shared with others. As such, they get a worse rep than they deserve because of the same stories being told by several reefers. Honestly I don't even rank sohal tangs in the top 5 most aggressive tangs, although it is on my list because I've not owned all tangs

My list is this: (I'm only ranking tangs I've actually had experience with). This is just an opinion after having several of each species over the years in multiple tanks.

1) Powder Blue
2) Powder Brown
3) Sohal (increasingly nasty with size)
4) Clown (increasingly nasty with size)
5) Achilles (some are docile but the nasty are up there with PBT)
6) Purple
7) Yellow
8) Goldrim/ White Cheek
9) Scopas
10) Gem
11) Kole (increasingly nasty with size)
12) Sailfin
13) Atlantic blue
14) Desjardini Sailfin
15) Hippo & YB Hippo
16) Tomini Tang
17) Chevron
18) Orange Shoulder
19) Convict Tang
20) Blonde Naso
21) Naso

A lot of variance exists between species, this is just my experience and observations over the years with other peers and kin I interact with or see them and their tanks frequently.

I hope this is helpful.
Nice Article. I have had more problems with tangs when I have 2 (or 1 - who tends to try to be the king of the tank). With groups - to me it seems like they do better and plenty of hiding places. There is aggression when any fish is added - but at least in my tank - it quickly ebbs - and the fish get along well.
 

MnFish1

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I have a young powder blue with a fuzzy dwarf lion and filefish fish. I tried adding a heniocus and the bag was attacked as soon as it hit the water. Put it an acclimation box and placed a mirror and the pbt settled a bit but after a week I tried introducing the heniocus and forget it. Lost his huge “banner”. I put him in my reef and luckily he’s not into any of my corals and is doing great.

Any ideas on how a Harlequin Tusk would do if it’s the same size as the tang?
I have 2 yellow and 1 purple tang - with a 4-5 inch harlequin tusk. They all get along. For the first 3 days - the tusk basically sat on the coral - every time he swan out the purple tang would chase him - now they are both fine.
 

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I lost almost all of my fish a few months ago from velvet. One of the survivors is a small Purple Tang. He is currently in an isolated tank waiting to go back into the DT. I know PT's are generally aggressive, especially toward yellow's and sailfin's. So, hopefully I can QT the PT (over again) along with a few YT's and a Sailfin so that they can go into my display tank at the same time. I did this a long time ago and it seemed to work great in terms of them bonding and not fighting.

My concern is that this would mean adding the PT, YT's and a Sailfin as the first Tang's to the aquarium. I don't recall in the past these Tang's being overall aggressive to other types/shapes of Tang's, but my memory is fuzzy a bit. I will likely be adding Tang's such as Blue Hippo, Orange Shoulder, Kole's, Achilis, Naso, to name a few. Am I looking for pain and misery down the road by adding the PT/YT/ST this early?

The aquarium they will be added to is my 450g (8x3x2.5).
 
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I lost almost all of my fish a few months ago from velvet. One of the survivors is a small Purple Tang. He is currently in an isolated tank waiting to go back into the DT. I know PT's are generally aggressive, especially toward yellow's and sailfin's. So, hopefully I can QT the PT (over again) along with a few YT's and a Sailfin so that they can go into my display tank at the same time. I did this a long time ago and it seemed to work great in terms of them bonding and not fighting.

My concern is that this would mean adding the PT, YT's and a Sailfin as the first Tang's to the aquarium. I don't recall in the past these Tang's being overall aggressive to other types/shapes of Tang's, but my memory is fuzzy a bit. I will likely be adding Tang's such as Blue Hippo, Orange Shoulder, Kole's, Achilis, Naso, to name a few. Am I looking for pain and misery down the road by adding the PT/YT/ST this early?

The aquarium they will be added to is my 450g (8x3x2.5).
I wouldn't re-quarantine, I'd just add the fish. I'd add the other zebrasoma tangs as soon as they go through quarantine, and add 2-3 tangs at a time. The more fish you add, the less chance the purple will be able to single them out and cause issues. In reality, zebrasoma tangs are most unruly as sole tangs or in a system with lots of space and "few" tangs. They don't seem to hold "permanent" grudges like their acanthurus cousins, which is why I would say they should be last, or at least the more aggressive acanthurus such as Achilles and powder blue. Orange shoulder aren't particularly aggressive as an acanthurus. A large naso is often a good "referee" that intimidates smaller more aggressive tangs from behaving aggressively. I've seen naso "not allow" aggression among tangs as well. I hope this helps! :)
 

TheHarold

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I just wanted to give one more update, since I feel it acts as another rough data point on tang aggression.

There is no more fighting visible to me. All tangs are able to eat from the algae clip, and although the yellow scopa is still skittish, it can hold its own.

 
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