Achilles Tang

Acanthurus achilles
Also known as Achilles Surgeonfish, Red-tailed Surgeon, or Achilles Surgeonfish

Habitat: The Achilles Tang is found near seaward reefs, either alone or in small groups. They are normally in the Central and Western Pacific, from the Hawaiian and Pitcairn islands, going south into central Polynesia and extending west into Micronesia and Melanesia. However, it doesn’t seem to go out to the Philippine Islands, the East Indies, and the Indian Ocean.

To call the Achilles Tang a spectacular fish for a saltwater aquarium is a vast understatement. Its sleek appearance is a true eye catcher, and its active lifestyle keeps eyes on it. Its dark brown, or even purple, skin features a beautiful set of white and orange highlights

The Achilles Tang’s body is very dark brown, black to purple. It has bright highlights of white and orange around the dorsal, caudal, and anal fins. The gill covers have white markings, and the most prominent mark on the Achilles Tang is a strikingly bright orange teardrop near the caudal fin. Juveniles have a less specific orange mark by the tail.

Achilles Tang fish for sale usually measure about 2-3 inches unless you are buying an adult, which is usually 4-6 inches, or larger, growing up to around nine inches.

There is no doubt that the Achilles Tang is a beautiful addition to any saltwater aquarium, ether it is a reef tank or a fish only with live rock (FOWLR) system. It has a unique, mesmerizing look that commands attention.

However, as beautiful and stunning this rare fish is, it is as difficult to keep it alive and healthy.

The Achilles Tang likes to swim, and at a fast speed. It is constantly racing around the tank, so it requires a large home aquarium. It also naturally lives in turbulent waters where waves push water over its reef home, so the water in the tank must be kept moving rapidly in an various patterns.

Without ideal water conditions and movement, Achilles Tang Fish start to get nervous and stressed. They stop eating, and then they i.e. pretty quickly after that.

On the occasion where there is an Achilles Tang for sale, the price tag on this expensive rare fish deters many less-experienced aquarium owners, and being as difficult to maintain in a saltwater aquarium, many fish sellers who offer replacements for dead animals specifically exclude the Achilles Tang from their warranties.

Some of the most successful owners of Achilles Tang have set up their aquariums around the fish, as opposed to adding it to a tank with an established community.

The Achilles Tang is one of the more common of the rare fish.

The Achilles Tang is a very beautiful and sleek fish that comes with a list of care-taking demands. This Tang is specifically considered “Expert Only” because it doesn’t adapt very well to aquarium life, especially if the aquarium isn’t large enough for it to swim around or if there are tank mates that will make life difficult for it. It can be hard to get the Achilles Tang on aquarium foods and it has the reputation of being an “ich magnet”, so you will definitely need to keep this tang with a cleaner shrimp species. It is also susceptible to head-and-lateral-line erosion, both of which contribute to their reputation of having short lifespans.

If you are new to the hobby, or don’t know if you will have either the time to take care of the fish or professional help, you will be much happier if you leave this fish alone until later, when you have enough experience and resources to take care of the Achilles.

This fish is every bit of a challenge to keep happy and healthy, but when it happens (it is even difficult to capture one without damaging them. Its skin is tender and scratch and marks easily. Its skin shows marks from any type of net, even one of the “soft” nets), it is an amazing fish to have in a saltwater aquarium.

Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons
There are several opinions on how big a tank is “big enough” for the Achilles Tang. After all, the Achilles is a rare fish and has such a striking appearance that it is easy for someone to want it so much that they will begin to justify their tank as being “big enough” to handle the needs of the fish.

Offering an Achilles tang ample space to swim is vital to their survival. They are very active swimmers and have been seen “pacing back and forth” in the aquarium if they don’t have enough room to move about comfortably. This is a sign of stress, and eventually, they get to be so stressed and weekend that the other fish in the tank begin to harass them.

A 180 gallon tank, built wide and long as opposed to square and tall, is the minimum tank that we recommend for a happy and healthy Achilles Tang.
Set up your saltwater aquarium so that it gives the tang a wide choice of open swimming spaces and hiding spots. It will let your Achilles swim more and more freely through the water than a tank piled with live rock.

Achilles Tangs do their best in an aquarium that is planed around them, their needs and their well-being. If the Achilles is not going to be the centerpiece in the display tank, then you should reconsider whether or not the Achilles Tang is the best choice for you.

The Achilles Tang Fish are typically found in wave-surge areas of reefs, so not only should it be housed in a long 180 gallon tank (or larger), but they need a strong water flow that varies often and into different turbulent patterns that dissolve oxygen into the water and wide-open swimming spaces, replicating the surge energy from the waves that would pound their natural habitat.

Water Conditions
72-78° F, dKH 8-12 pH 8.1-8.4 sg 1.020-1.025
72-78 degrees Fahrenheit. pH 8.1 or 8.4 Specific gravity of 1.020 to 1.025

Achilles Tangs do not deal very well with fluctuations in water temperature, salinity and pH (making acclimation even more challenging). When kept with invertebrates, the specific gravity range should be 1.020 to 1.025, for the invertebrate species. In a fish only aquarium, the specific gravity should fall between 1.020 and 1.023. The Achilles is highly sensitive and succumbs quickly to minor ammonia levels and poor water quality.

One of the first challenges the new owner of an Achilles Tang encounters is how to quarantine the fish. Most saltwater aquarium owners who handle their own quarantine have small 20-30 gallon tanks to quarantine new fish for 14-30 days before they introduce them into their display tanks. However, the lack of space in a quarantine tank is likely to stress out an Achilles Tang and cause bigger problems in the future.

Of course, every fish should be quarantined before being added into the aquarium. For the Achilles, a minimum recommended size is at east 50 gallons to let it move around while being quarantined. Otherwise, the resulting stress may make things much worse for the fish.

Feeding: Herbivore

In the wild, Achilles Tangs spend most of their day searching and grazing, so there must always having something available in the aquarium for it to eat. While Tangs will eat meaty foods with their tank mates, it is very important to make sure that they get plenty of marine based seaweed and algae. They need this to strengthen their immune system, reduce aggression and improve the overall health of the fish. Dried seaweed tied to a rock in a veggie clip at least 3 times per week is a good start for the Achilles. It can also transition into accepting flake foods. The wider the variety they get, the better overall for the fish. Green vegetables like nori, romaine lettuce or zucchini should always be available to them, either in a clip on the side of the tank or somewhere else.

Providing your Achilles with an aquarium that has algae growing is a good thing for them, and they will return the favor by keeping the algae under control (it will also eat good algae, so keep this in mind). It will also graze on live rock all day long, taking the algae off of it.

Achilles tangs come from an area of Pacific coral reefs known as the reef crest or the surge zone. The water’s waves break over shallow parts of of the reef, creating strong and turbulent water currents and mixing oxygen into the water. The home aquarium that replicates this turbulent flow will help the Achilles Tang to get used to life in captivity, but it creates a different issue for a reef aquarium owner.

While corals and invertebrates enjoy good strong water movement, they don’t like it when it gets too strong for them. The turbulence and speed of the water that the Achilles will enjoy is much too strong for many corals, and many will close up and not open back up until the speed of the water comes back down to the speeds that they like.

Reef aquarium owners, in particular, have a lot of thinking and planning to do if they want to have an Achilles Tang. You will have to make some compromises in your livestock, because much of your reef community will not like the water movement that the Achilles needs, and will end up not king very well in your tank, if it survives. Take some time and research the corals and the fish which live in the reef crest and are compatible with the Achilles and its desired environment. It can increase the probability of your success.

Also, know that if the Achilles gets hungry enough, it will probably eat microalgae, and if it is still hungry, it may start going after and nipping at your corals.

Achilles Tangs are known to be very peaceful with the other fish in their community, except when there is another tang in the vicinity.

The Achilles is very aggressive towards other Tangs and Surgeonfish, and if there is another Achilles Tang in the saltwater aquarium, it can quickly turn deadly. We do not recommend putting more than one in your home aquarium.

Part of the challenge of keeping an Achilles Tang is selecting the right tank mates for it. It is often most successfully kept in a home aquarium when it is specifically designed and built around it, selecting the best tank mates for the tang. The approach of keeping one Achilles Tang in a lightly stocked reef with small and docile species has been one of the best formulas.

Choosing the tank mates for the Achilles Tang needs to be thought out in advance. For example, having cleaner shrimp and fish in the tank can help to keep the Achilles healthy and parasite-free. Skunk cleaner shrimp and Neon Cleaner Gobies seem to be natural fits and take care of the the tang very well.

Having other tangs in the area creates a highly stressful condition for the Achilles Tang. Either the other tangs are too aggressive with the Achilles, not allowing it to get the time it needs to fully acclimate itself to the new fish tank, or the Achilles becomes the aggressor, going after the other species even though it is not at it top speed. The same can be said about keeping an Achilles tang with aggressive species such as trigger fish. Very often, the tang’s stress often gets the best of it, and as the stress wears the Achilles down, the aggressive fish make it worse as they harass the tang, literally to death.

Planning your tank community may seem like a lot of work… it is. However, once you have your aquarium planned around your Achilles, and your fish is in place, it is such a beautiful and striking fish that all of the planning and work are well worth it.

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