Tang Aggression - Understanding and Combating

mdrobc13

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Have a few tangs....Naso, Orange Shoulder, 2 Yellow tangs, Purple tang, Chevron tang, a Lavender tang also and until recently an Achilles tang.....all doing well and co-habitating, Feeding and Nori times can become heated but I fix that by having two feeding stations in the tank...actually three and placing nori on clips at opposite ends of the tank. Works as it tends to disperse some of the focused feeding aggression. Otherwise all have their own spaces in the tank and I don't have WWIII in my tank. Worse situation I did have was a Sailfin who chased my Emperor Angel (juv) mercilessly and had to be re-homed and my 1st Orange Shoulder who was traded for a smaller one to allow for my Achilles tang's introduction. Will get a new Achilles tang in a few days and introduce him in a month or so once he finishes acclimation and QT by fellow reefer. So it can work..need to be patient and have a plan and a bit of luck.
 
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Dave2245

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Have a few tangs....Naso, Orange Shoulder, 2 Yellow tangs, Purple tang, Chevron tang, a Lavender tang also and until recently an Achilles tang.....all doing well and co-habitating, Feeding and Nori times can become heated but I fix that by having two feeding stations in the tank...actually three and placing nori on clips at opposite ends of the tank. Works as it tends to disperse some of the focused feeding aggression. Otherwise all have their own spaces in the tank and I don't have WWIII in my tank. Worse situation I did have was a Sailfin who chased my Emperor Angel (juv) mercilessly and had to be re-homed and my 1st Orange Shoulder who was traded for a smaller one to allow for my Achilles tang's introduction. Will get a new Achilles tang in a few days and introduce him in a month or so once he finishes acclimation and QT by fellow reefer. So it can work..need to be patient and have a plan and a bit of luck.
Yes I agree I also put two different feeding areas and some of the fighting stop. They are more calmer but I just have to make sure they eat. I notice like anyone, if you don't feed often they will get aggressive.
 

jaxteller007

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Have a few tangs....Naso, Orange Shoulder, 2 Yellow tangs, Purple tang, Chevron tang, a Lavender tang also and until recently an Achilles tang.....all doing well and co-habitating, Feeding and Nori times can become heated but I fix that by having two feeding stations in the tank...actually three and placing nori on clips at opposite ends of the tank. Works as it tends to disperse some of the focused feeding aggression. Otherwise all have their own spaces in the tank and I don't have WWIII in my tank. Worse situation I did have was a Sailfin who chased my Emperor Angel (juv) mercilessly and had to be re-homed and my 1st Orange Shoulder who was traded for a smaller one to allow for my Achilles tang's introduction. Will get a new Achilles tang in a few days and introduce him in a month or so once he finishes acclimation and QT by fellow reefer. So it can work..need to be patient and have a plan and a bit of luck.

We had to rehome our sailfin too. At the time he was our only tang but he was relentlessly chasing our magnificent foxface. The foxface personality has been markedly different since getting rid of the sailfin. Now we have 2 yellows, lt tang, flame tang, vlamingi and just added a blue hippo. Everyone does well. Some occasional chasing when they try and go in the same hole but nothing major.
 

jaxteller007

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@4FordFamily it looks like the lt and one of the yellows were kissing LOL
fish3.jpg
 

mdrobc13

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Yes I agree I also put two different feeding areas and some of the fighting stop. They are more calmer but I just have to make sure they eat. I notice like anyone, if you don't feed often they will get aggressive.
Also have a plan of introduction....I did the most benign and least aggressive first and tried to QT multiple tangs together or at least at the same time and do simultaneous introductions into the DT. By doing that and also paying attention to size of tangs introduced; I have been able to get two yellow tangs to accept a slightly larger purple tang introduced later on for example and add an Achilles tang with an orange shoulder and lavender at the same time so they all got along together. Planning is important as personality sometimes...and feeding.
 

StephenMcn

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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.
Hi sorry for the hijack but could you tell me specie of fish in the top picture please. The blue/purple body with orange stripes. Thanks
 

jaxteller007

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Speaking of powder blues being bullies. I was helping a friend do some maintenance on a 800 gallon tank this weekend. Part of that was introducing an adult Copperband Butterfly to help control an aiptasia outbreak. Tank already had a small/medium powder blue in there along with a bunch of other fish, including larger tangs. No fish in the tank gave the CBB a second look, except the powder blue. It chased that CBB almost the entire time I was there. Even when we put food and algae in the tank. I'm thinking the powder blue might have to be pulled out if they want the CBB to survive.
Make me kind of glad we've decided against the powder blue in our little bitty 6', 180 tank.
 

jaxteller007

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@4FordFamily how do you "measure" your fish? I wanted to try and chart the growth of the tangs and others. Best way i can think of measure a couple of the rocks or something in the tank and comparing the fish to them. Not like they stay still long enough to actually measure lol.
 
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4FordFamily

4FordFamily

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@4FordFamily how do you "measure" your fish? I wanted to try and chart the growth of the tangs and others. Best way i can think of measure a couple of the rocks or something in the tank and comparing the fish to them. Not like they stay still long enough to actually measure lol.
To be honest, I just estimate it by looking at a measuring tape.
 
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Nick1998

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Hello! My dad and I have a 150 gallon aquarium with an Achilles Tang, Flame Angel and Maroon Clownfish. All of the fish are 5+ years old at this point and have survived multiple tank crashes over the years. I just got back home from college and am trying get the tank back into its prime but am a little concerned about our Achilles. He will randomly speed swim into a corner and freak out, flashing his fins etc. Video attached below.

My initial thoughts are that he has outgrown the tank, is seeing his own reflection, or perhaps doesn't have enough swimming room with all of the rock. OR maybe he is just one of those cracked out Achilles tangs, idk?? He ignores the other two fish ( and they ignore him even when he spazzes out). He did, however, KO our yellow tang a couple years ago so he has some history with aggression towards other tangs.

Basically ...

1) Is his behavior normal for being the only tang in the tank?
2) What are the odds that we could add another large tang such as a hippo or Blonde Naso without him beating it up? Honesty hesitant adding any other fish at this point even though there are only three in the 150 right just because of his random spazzes
 

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Joem820

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So I have an established tomini, orange shoulder, and purple tang. I have an opportunity to get a quarantined hippo and was curious if people on here think I am making a mistake given the fish that are already established?
 

OrionN

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I normally don't like Hippo tang, but that is just personal preference. Mistake or not depends on the tank size. Very nice color fish. I like the normal blue color rather than the faded blue of the Yellow belly Blue tang.
 

MoHey16

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Love this post on tang discussion, I always love adding to my knowledge about this hobby!! Thank you for this, it's beautiful to see that 4yrs after the original post we are still active on this thread!! I'm still learning my tang gang situation, I added a yellow tang and naso tang to my Reefer 750 last Friday. The yellow tang is definitely an interesting addition, she is about 3-4inchs easily twice the size of my Atlantic blue tang, but maybe twice a day the little guy chase my yellow tang from the left side of the tank to the right side. They get along well during feeding sessions, but its something about the yellow tang exploring the entire reef than my Atlantic is just not happy about just yet lol.
 

blackstallion

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The Yellow Tang is now eating frozen Mysis and I believe he will make it through QT. I anticipate he will be ready for the DT beginning of November.

However, my original plan of adding 3 Zebrasomas at once ie. Sailfin, Purple and Yellow is now unachievable as the Sailfin and Purple got Velvet while in QT and unfortunately did not make it.

I am still considering purchasing a Purple and possibly another Zebrasoma ie. Sailfin, BUT, how would their introduction into the DT go after the Yellow has been there for potentially several months?

The Yellow is large 5". Since Purples are more aggressive than Yellows, would a smaller ie. 4" Purple be better with the large Yellow?

And likewise, I assume the Sailfin, since he's typically less aggressive than the Yellow or Purple, would be better to go larger with him?

OR another option would be to go with a Hippo Tang BEFORE adding in any additional Zebrasomas. Would this help with the eventual addition of Zebrasomas?
So after an extremely trying ordeal for me and the fish (ALL died except the Yellow Tang which is doing exceptionally well in the DT now), I have purchased a heram of 3 Orange Storm Clowns that are in QT now.

Seeing as the Yellow Tang dominates ALL of the tank now (albeit its a 200g 6' tank), will I have any issues introducing the Clowns? Should I put them in an acclimation box for a day or so, or just drop them in with the Tang when the time is ready? I'm hopeful they'll take to my RBTA.

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