Palette surgeonfish: Characteristics, types, care and more….

The Palette surgeonfish belongs to the Acanthuridae family, having the scientific name Paracanthurus hepatus, being the only member of the genus Paracanthurus.

This creature is one of the most requested by those who have a fondness for fish farming, due to its wonderful color and its ease to live comfortably inside the fish tanks.

It’s called a surgeon because of the removable spine that develops on each side, where the caudal fin grows, and which it tends to use to defend itself from its predators and other fish.

The children identify it perfectly, because the surgeon fish inspired the main character of the movie «Finding Dory.»

Taxonomy 🐟

Kingdom Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Actinopterygii  Order: Perciformes Family: Acanthuridae  Genus: Paracanthurus  Species: P. hepatus

Acanthuridae 🐟

The Acanthuridae are a family of marine fish included in the order Perciforms. All members of this family are tropical marine fish that live between coral reefs.

Their bright and vivid colors make them very popular in aquarium. Most species are small; with few exceptions usually don’t  exceed 30 cm in length.

The distinctive feature of the family is a pair of spines, or scalpels, one on each side of the caudal peduncle, which are very dangerous stingers, which has given rise to its common name of surgeon fish. Both the dorsal and anal fins are large, extending beyond body length. The small mouth has a single row of sharp teeth, used to cut the algae it feeds on.

Perciform 🐟

Perciforms, also called percomorphs (Percomorphi) or acanthoptera (Acanthopteri), include about 40% of all fish and are the largest order of vertebrates. The name Perciformes means «perch-shaped.»

They belong to the class of actinopterigios and comprise more than 1270 species in Africa, 1540 in South America, 1550 in Alaska and Oceania.

In the Atlantic Ocean there are 7000 different species, with different shapes and sizes, found in almost all aquatic environments. They appeared and diversified for the first time in the Cretaceous.

Why is the name Surgeon Fish? 🐟

Surgeon fish are called that because they have a sharp spine, hence their name as surgeons, since the surgeon doctors use a scalpel and this spine has a lot of edge. The Blue Surgeon changes color as he grows.

Palette Surgeonfish: Main Characteristics 🐟

The Palette surgeon fish is characterized by its striking tones. It shows a resplendent indigo blue throughout his body, in which two black bands also stand out.

One of them (the upper one) goes from the caudal fin to the head, and passes through the eye, while the other (the lower one) extends in the direction of the pectoral fin.

In general, the lower strip joins the upper one, creating a sort of oval in which a much more penetrating and intense blue stands out.

The caudal fin of the surgeon fish is yellow, as is the edge of the pectoral fins, and depending on their age, the hue of the same will vary.

This fish can reach 30 centimeters in length when it’s in its natural habitat. Now, when it’s taken out of its environment and placed in ponds or fish tanks, it barely exceeds 15 centimeters.

The body of the surgeon fish is tall and flattened. Its snout is pointed, and has tiny scales while its eyes are in the upper part of the head and its mouth, (of few dimensions) is below.

In its jaws the Palette surgeonfish houses between 8 and 28 teeth. It’s equipped with 16 to 20 gill spines that favor its breathing. It also has numerous dorsal and anal radii. We invite you to read our article the anatomy of fish to learn more about such a topic

Let’s enjoy them

Surgeon Fish Behavior. 🐟

Juveniles tend to live in large groups around coral colonies ( like the clown trigerfish), which helps them hide among the branches when they face risky situations.

This fish can get to give a tremendous scare to its owner, pretending that they are dead when they join an aquarium and remaining lying on the bottom of the tank; but soon they recover and begin to swim naturally.

What do Suergeon Fish Feed On?

Adult surgeon fish are omnivorous, feeding primarily on plankton and macro algae, but fry need to feed on plankton for many months.

The inner part of their digestive tract has between 5 and 80% of inorganic matter, such as the sand that you eat when eating algae; this helps to facilitate the food’s digestion

Life expectancy 🐟

The life expectancy of a surgeon is 10 years, but that will depend on the way their health is taken care of. White spot, velvet and certain skin problems can affect it. Similarly, it’s quite sensitive to copper.

Palette Surgeon Fish: Habitat and Distribution 🐟

The Palette surgeonfish fish inhabits a variety of sites throughout the world. According to researchers and scientists, this type of fish can be commonly found in the reefs of Japan, East Africa, Samoa, New Caledonia.

It’s a native species of different regions, among which are: Australia, Burma, Taiwan and Solomon Islands.

They usually feel comfortable in depths that range from 10 to 40 meters. The youngest generally go in groups and in situations of danger they take refuge in the marine branches.

How Palette Surgeonfish Reproduce 🐟

This species need around two years before reaching sexual maturity which is a considerable period of time.

They do not have sexual dimorphism, that is, there are not many differences between male and female except for the change in color that the male goes through in the reproductive process becoming a light blue color.

The Palette surgeonfish tend to spawn in groups in the afternoon and evening hours during the periods of the new moon and full moon.

It’s  is important to point out that this is a monogamous, oviparous species that fertilizatizes externally; Due to this, it needs a high concentration of individuals in the same space so that the fertilization process can be carried out successfully.

Pups surgeon fish. 🐟

These fish don’t tend to protect their Youngs. The eggs are pelagic, that is, they float in the upper part of the ocean waters, and in order to maintain themselves they have a drop of oil nside. They measure around a millimeter in diameter.

After 24 hours that the eggs have been fertilized, they hatch becoming translucent pelagic larvae called Acronurus. They have a silver color and are compressed laterally like adult specimens.

In addition, it’s important to point out that they have a triangle-shaped head and large eyes with protruding pectoral fins.

When they reach 5.5 or 6 centimeters in length, the eggs go through a metamorphosis process that will take them from the state of larvae to the juvenile state. With this transformation they achieve the characteristic color according to the species in addition to rounding their body.

Let’s enjoy them one more time

Other Species Of Surgeon Fish 🐟

Let’s meet the whole family

Achilles tang or Achilles surgeonfish, 🐟

This is a kind of surgeon easily recognizable in its adult stage due to the striking orange spot on the back of its body which covers the peduncular spine that gives surgeons their generic name. Achilles Tang is   an attractive fish with bright black and orange colors on a bluish black background.

The color of its body is based on a bluish black or dark brown almost reaching black, with an oval shaped orange tone located at the back where the caudal fin is born.

From this same area, two orange bands split in parallel to the dorsal and anal fins. A white spot appears in the middle of the membrane of the operculum.

An interesting feature of this species is the light blue ring that surrounds the chin having points of the same tone in the opercular membrane. The caudal fin has an orange stripe while the one on the margin is white.

It’s worth noting that it’s a school species in its natural habitat that nevertheless presents a great intra-specific aggressiveness. Therefore, only one specimen can be kept unless we have large volume aquariums greater than 1000 liters.

In these large aquariums the minimum number of animals to be maintained will be 4 so that this aggressiveness is distributed among all the members of the colony and the target of the dominant animal is not always the same.

Although all surgeons are sensitive to aquatic conditions, A. achilles is especially sensitive to nitrates.

Therefore, we must concentrate on keeping them under 25 ppm and maintaining high redox potential.

In the wild, A. achilles hybrid with A. nigricans shaping A. rackliffei (Shulltz, 1943)


Achilles Tang reaches up to 28 cm in the wild, but in In captivity it doesn’t usually reach beyond 18.

Acanthurus nigricans :Whitecheek surgeonfish, or yellow-spotted surgeonfish 🐟

The coloration of its body varies from  that of other species and is characterized by yellow lines that start from the base of the dorsal and anal fins reaching the caudal peduncle, and widening its thickness as they approach.

In the part of the tail, in the middle of these two yellow stripes a yellow spot with a particular form of drop is distinguished.

The rest of his body has a coloration based on purplish black while the dorsal and anal fins have an outer margin that is edged in light blue.

On the other hand the caudal fin is white with a yellow vertical bar that is almost on the outer margin, which in turn has a light blue coloration. A white spot covers the base of the eye and another of the same color surrounds the lips.

Being adults they can reach 21.3 centimeters in length. The longest-lived species that has been registered arrived at 34 and was found in the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s usually kept alone or in small groups reaching a depth between 1 and 67 meters under water.

Acanthurus leucosternon , (Powderblue surgeonfish) 🐟

This is the most popular species among aquarium hobbyists. It’s one of the largest species reaching 54 centimeters in length in its adult state.

Acanthurus leucosternon  has a sky blue color, with a white spot that covers its chest.

Moreover,It has a black head mixed with a broad white band that runs from the base of the pectoral fin to the throat. Unlike some relatives, the Powderblue surgeonfish lacks distinctive points or white bands under his eyes.

The dorsal and caudal fins are yellow, with the exception of small stripes that are close to the edge and are black and white. However, the anal and pelvic fins are totally white. This species usually lives between 0 and 25 meters underwater.

here it is

Acanthurus japonicus: Japan surgeonfish, white-faced surgeonfish, gold rim tang 🐟

This species can reach 20 centimeters in length. His body has a gradient brown color which lightens as it reaches the peduncle. It also has an oblique and elongated white spot that covers from the bottom of the eye to the mouth.

The insertion of the pectoral fin is bright yellow, just like the inserts in the dorsal and anal fin reaching the caudal peduncle. The upper posterior part has an orange color and the caudal fin is white with a yellow stripe.

The 4 species of surgeon fish we have described can mate with each other, if they are in the same habitat, creating hybrid fish.

Acanthurus xanthopterus. 🐟

Also called yellowfin surgeon fish, purple surgeon fish, yellowfin pig or yellowfin navajón. It’s one of the few species, if not the only one, that is used as food, according to its area of ​​distribution.

Acanthurus xanthopterus has a violet-gray color, and a diffuse spot on the eyes and snouts..

The caudal fin is bluish and in many cases with a white bar at the base.

The dorsal and anal fins have between 4 and 5 yellow stripes that make a strong contrast with the blue of the rest of the body.

In some cases it may have a very pale gray coloration coupled with a pattern of several wavy lines that are darker, located on the sides of the body.

Yellowfin surgeon fish can measure up to 70 centimeters, making this surgeon fish one of the largest species in its family. There are some recorded cases of fish that have lived for up to 34 years.

It’s usually found at a depth that varies between 1 and 10 meters underwater. This member of the family differs from some of its relatives because it can feed on the feces of other pelagic species such as Carangido fish.

Acanthurus pyroferus. 🐟

The Chocolate surgeonfish Is also known as the mimic surgeon fish since in its juvenile stage it has a great resemblance to several species of dwarf angelfish. Its body is violet-black with a blurred orange patch in the final part of the gill opening. Moreover,  Acanthurus pyroferus.

Has black lips, a small orange stripe in front of the eye and a white tone line under the chin. The caudal fin of the youngest specimens has a rounded shape very similar than that of dwarf angel fish which helps them camouflage between this species and go unnoticed.

In addition to this, youngest specimens also have a color that is based on gray tones, while the back of the body as well as the dorsal, anal and caudal fins melt towards the black color with a light blue edged margin. In its adult phase it can reach 29 centimeters in length.

Here it’s

(Lined surgeonfish). Acanthurus Lineatus 🐟

This species has the typical morphology of its family with a laterally compressed an oval body. Its mouth is small, protractile and located at the bottom of the head while its snout is big. Acanthurus pyroferus.

has 9 spines and 27 to 30 dorsal soft rays; 3 spines and between 25 and 28 anal soft rays; 16 pectoral radii; 14 to 16 anterior gill rakers and 13 to 15 posterior gill rakers.

A 107 mm specimen has 12 teeth in the upper jaw and 14 in the lower, with 180 mm long it is 13 in the upper and 15 in the lower.

The base color that it has in the upper two thirds of its body is usually yellow, but it’s crossed horizontally by a series of 10 blue lines, bordered in black along the body and head. The lower third of his body is a bluish gray tone.

On the other hand, the base color of the head is a combination of yellow and orange. The dorsal and anal fins have an outer border edged in light blue while the pelvic fins are yellow and orange like the head, although with the outer margin black.

The caudal fin is black with a profiled moon shape, as well as the blue strip that borders it near the inner margin.

Lined surgeonfish can reach 38 centimeters in length but it seldom exceeds 25 centimeters. Depending on their size, territorial and non-territorial individuals are formed, the latter being the largest.

The male of greater size is the one that controls in a defined way the food territories, as well as a harem of females.

The youngest specimens tend to be alone in more superficial areas than adults. However, this surgeon fish cannot be still and remains in constant motion.

It usually lives between 0 and 15 meters below water, although most of them are located between 1 and 3 meters deep.

Unlike his relatives, the lined surgeon fish can end up spawning as a couple and not necessarily in a group, although he can also do it this way. In addition to this, its larval stage is longer waiting until it reaches 27 or 32.5 centimeters to begin the transformation towards the youth stage. At first they have a bright red color those later changes until the adult colors are taken.

The specimen with the longest life of this species of surgeon fish was one reported in Moorea, Polynesia which lived 43 years.

Exploitation of Surgeon fish by human Beings 🐟

The surgeon fish doesn’t have great importance in fishing, since it has no gastronomic value, due to its strong aroma. However, it’s common for fishermen to use it as bait for hooks.

By consuming the meat of the surgeon fish, ciguatera poisoning can occur, another reason not to eat it.

However, it’s common to catch it to be placed in aquariums, like the betta fish,(int) due to its striking colors.

Surgeon Fish in Aquariums. 🐟

Having a fish is a matter of knowledge, both of the species and of the living conditions in its natural environment.

Despite being a species that acclimates well to remain in captivity, it deserves specific care, and especially the attention of its owners so as not to neglect water conditions.

This species requires that water be changed periodically, using a siphon to remove organic debris that accumulates at the bottom of the aquarium. This maintenance should be carried out approximately every two weeks.

An intense light should be placed on top so that the seaweed colony on which it feeds can develop properly. In addition, a sufficient amount of live rock or coral reefs is necessary to provide the necessary hiding places.

In addition, live rock provides enough algae and organisms that can be consumed by the surgeon during the acclimatization phase to the water tank.

In the same way than guppy fish, surgeon fish can get different types of skin diseases such as white spot and velvet.

This could be caused by its sensitivity to copper, an element that is present in many cleaning products and diseases that can cause the surgeon to worsen.

To eliminate pests that can cause a skin problem to our surgeon fish it’s better to use ultraviolet sterilizers. We invite you to read our article fish for fish tanks to learn more about aquariums

It’s also recommended to keep the surgeon fish in a quarantine tank for one or two weeks as they sometimes have some type of contagious disease.

Tank and tank temperature. 🐟

For their comfort and optimal growth, surgeon fish need a tank that is at least 200 liters or larger. Depending on the amount of fish you wish to have, you must purchase a new tank, to give them at least 20 liters of water for each new fish.

It’s important to mention that being mainly fish from tropical climates they merit an average temperature between 24º and 26º C, without letting it rise or fall drastically, because you could cause a state of stress that often causes death.

Feeding in captivity. 🐟

As stated earlier, the surgeon fish is characterized as an omnivorous species, although the vegetable diet is the most important of all for helping a lot in their health.

In addition to the algae that colonize living rocks and are essential for their diet, food with spirulina can be offered.

You can also offer vegetables such as lettuce leaves, chard or spinach that are submerged with some weight to make it easier for the animal to consume.Palette surgeonfish: benefits of spirulina

You can complement the menu with frozen live food such as artemis, mysis or some larvae; or even pieces of white fish and mussels that are their favorite foods.

When the surgeon fish is completely accustomed to its new environment, it will be able to accept commercial fish food which comes in the form of scales and contains beneficial vegetable and protein requirements for our little friend.

Compatibility with other fish. 🐟

The surgeon fish is a relatively peaceful species, which gets along well with fish that are not part of its family. However, it may have epic territorial struggles, which are stronger with those of the same species.

palette surgeonfish : really striking creaturesThese fights are especially recurring with fish that have not been introduced at the same time. It’s recommended to have a minimum of 4 fish per aquarium so that the aggressiveness is distributed among all the members of the group and not only of the dominant fish against the weakest fish.

Some professionals advise that when breeding several fish, (if several examples are desired), they are introduced all at once so that the level of aggressiveness is greatly reduced.

It respects invertebrates as starfish, but rapidly depletes colonies of macro algae.

Finding Dory. 🐟

Since its appearance on the big screen in June 2016, the surgeon fish face a new threat that can lead to the disappearance or imbalance of the ocean.

And since the movie Looking for Dary by Disney-Pixar companies was released, the surgeon trade has passed from 74,557 individuals to the alarming figure of 400,000 copies a year.

In addition to this species is very unlikely to breed in captivity, it needs to be in a large group to start spawning, unlike his friend in the movie the clownfish(int) better known as Nemo; To which is added its delay in reaching sexual maturity.

For this reason, if you see a surgeon fish in an aquarium, it means that it has been removed from its natural habitat, profoundly affecting the balance in the marine ecosystem.

Statistics show that more than 90% of aquatic animals that are in aquariums or pet stores have been caught in the wild. According to research, approximately 45 countries in the world have been supplied with more than 30 million fish brought directly from the ocean.

More than 60% of the animals are caught in Indonesia and the Philippines, the US being the largest importer of ornamental fish.

This equals 80% of global trade, closely followed by Europe and Japan.

People have fallen in love with the characters that appear in the movies wanting to take these animals to their homes as pets, ignoring the conservationist message that the creators wanted to convey in the first place: leaving the fish in the place where they belong that is the ocean.

Let’s enjoy them one more time


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