The epaulette surgeonfish is widespread in the Indo-Pacific, and has several different names throughout its range. These include blackstreak surgeonfish, black-barred surgeonfish and shoulderbar surgeonfish. Found at
depths of up to 30 metres, this species prefers sandy areas to coral reefs (making it unique amongst surgeonfish species). This is because it grazes on the film that covers sandy surfaces. The epaulette surgeonfish occurs singly or in small groups, and grows up to a maximum length of 40 centimetres. It has a dark or light brown body, with a horizontal black bar, or epaulette, behind the upper gill opening. Its dorsal fin has a yellowish tinge, while its anal and tail fins are edged in electric blue. Its tail fin also has a broad white bar at the base.
Also known as the blue-banded pualu, the dark surgeon or the tailring surgeon, the ringtail surgeonfish is native to the Indo-Pacific. It inhabits shallow coral reefs at depths of up to 50 metres, and feeds mainly on algal film and sedimentary detritus.
This species often ingests sand to help with digestion, and is characterised as a grazer. Ringtail surgeonfish can live as long as 35 years, and reach a maximum length of 45 centimetres. They have a blue-grey body, with small yellow-brown spots that often join to form irregular horizontal lines. The pectoral, anal and tail fins are blue, and there is a yellow spot behind the fish’s eye. Some (but not all) specimens have a white ring around the base of the tail fin. The ringtail surgeonfish is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
The pencilled surgeonfish has many different names, including eyestripe surgeonfish, Dussumier’s surgeonfish and ornate surgeonfish. It is widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific, but thought to
be uncommon in parts of its range. It favours reefs and wrecks between 10 and 130 metres deep, and is usually solitary although sometimes gathers in small schools. The pencilled surgeonfish feeds on detritus and sediment, and forms distinct pairs during spawning season. Reaching a maximum length of 54 centimetres, it has a pale brown body and irregular blue and yellow lines on its head. The orange band between its eyes stretches on either side to the top of the gill cover. Its dorsal fin is yellow, and there is a yellow ring at the base of its blue tail fin.
Blue Banded Surgeonfish
Sometimes referred to as the lined surgeonfish, clown surgeonfish or striped surgeonfish, the blue banded surgeonfish is widespread in the Indo-Pacific. It is considered
common, and inhabits shallow inshore reefs at depths of up to 15 metres. This species grazes on red and green algae, and larger individuals can be aggressively territorial over feeding areas. With a maximum recorded age of 42 years, the blue banded surgeonfish reproduces in mass spawning events. Larvae spend an extended period floating on pelagic currents before settling on a single patch of reef. The upper three-quarters of the fish’s body is covered with blue and yellow bands, while the lower quarter is a solid blue-grey colour. The caudal spine is venomous and may cause painful wounds.
Powder Blue Surgeonfish
Sometimes called the blue surgeonfish or powder blue tang, the powder blue surgeonfish is widespread throughout the Indian Ocean. However, it is not considered common, except for in the Maldives and East Africa. KwaZulu-Natal marks
its southern boundary in South Africa. This species favours clear, inshore reefs up to 25 metres deep, and occurs singly or in large feeding groups. The powder blue surgeonfish grazes on benthic algae, and reaches an average length of 19 centimetres. Its body is blue with a white chest, and its head is black. Its dorsal fin is yellow, its anal fin is white and its tail fin is striped black and white. Although it is listed as Least Concern for now, this species is targeted by the aquarium trade and at risk from the global decline of coral reefs.
The convict surgeonfish or convict tang is so-called because of its white body and black vertical stripes, which resemble historic prison uniforms. It is found throughout the Indo-Pacific at depths of up to 90 metres. Juvenile convict surgeonfish
are often found in tidal pools, while adults favour rocky reefs. They can be seen singly, in small groups, or in feeding aggregations that cover areas measuring more than 50 feet in diameter. They graze on algae, and reach a maximum length of 27 centimetres. Like all surgeonfish, the convict surgeonfish has a sharp spine on either side of its caudal peduncle (the join between body and tail fin). This spine can be held erect or folded away at will. Despite being fished both recreationally and commercially, it is listed as Least Concern.
The yellowfin surgeonfish has many different names, including Cuvier’s surgeonfish, purple surgeonfish and ring-tailed surgeonfish. It is widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific and inhabits a range of different habitats.
Juveniles prefer shallow, protected waters, while adults are more common on outer reef slopes at depths of up to 120 metres. The yellowfin surgeonfish reaches a maximum length of 70 centimetres and may live up to 34 years. It has a purple-grey body, a dull yellow patch in front of its eye and a yellow pectoral fin. The dorsal and anal fins are yellow-grey in colour. This species feeds on the faeces of other pelagic fish, as well as algae and detritus found on the seafloor. It is fished as a food source in some parts of its range, but populations remain stable.
The elongate surgeonfish is widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific and has many different names, including Bleeker’s surgeonfish, blue-lined surgeonfish and pale surgeonfish. In South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal marks the southern boundary of the species’ range. It is found on
coral reefs up to 100 metres deep, and shows a greater tolerance for turbid water than other surgeonfish species. Juveniles feed on benthic algae, but develop a taste for zooplankton as they get older. Adults reach a maximum length of 50 centimetres and may live to 23 years. Elongate surgeonfish are usually brown in colour, but sometimes appear pale blue. They can be identified by the yellow patch behind their eye, and the twin yellow lines extending from the eye to the front of the head.
Also called the blackspot or dusky surgeonfish, the brown surgeonfish is widespread in the Indo-Pacific and found as far south as the Transkei in South Africa. It is one of the most abundant surgeonfish on coral reefs within its
range, and is usually the dominant species. This is due to its aggressive nature, which belies its relatively small size. Brown surgeonfish grow up to 21 centimetres in length and feed mainly on red algae. They are brown in colour, sometimes with fine, horizontal blue lines. All specimens have a prominent black dot at the base of their dorsal and anal fins, which are tinged with yellow and purple respectively. This species forms spawning aggregations numbering thousands of individuals. The global population is stable, and listed as Least Concern.
Sometimes referred to as the doubleband surgeonfish, the lieutenant surgeonfish is found from East Africa to the west coast of Thailand and southern Indonesia. It favours lagoon and seaward reefs up to 35 metres deep, and may live alone or in
small groups. This species is a grazer, subsisting largely on benthic algae. The lieutenant surgeonfish is pale brown or beige in colour, with a distinctive black horseshoe mark on the shoulder. As the fish gets bigger, this mark separates into two horizontal lines, which resemble the stripes on a lieutenant’s epaulettes. Its dorsal and anal fines are lined with black on both edges, while its tail fin is edged with white. The spine located at the join of the body and tail fin is ringed once with black, and once with electric blue.
The palette surgeonfish has many different names, including regal blue surgeonfish and blue tang. The name “palette” comes from its distinctive black markings, which make the fish resemble a traditional artist’s palette.
Of course, this bright blue fish is best known to younger generations as Dory, the star of Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Finding Dory movies. It has a characteristic yellow tail fin and dark blue “freckles” on its head. The palette surgeonfish is widespread but rare in the Indo-Pacific, favouring exposed outer reefs with consistent current. It feeds on zooplankton and algae, and gathers in large numbers to spawn during the full moon. It is one of the most targeted aquarium species; however, its population remains stable and it is therefore listed as Least Concern.
The two-tone tang has several different names, including brushtail tang, blue-lined tang and brown tang. It is widespread in the Indo-Pacific, with a range that stretches from the east coast of Africa to Western Australia. It is common in many areas, and caught incidentally rather than
intentionally by local fisheries. Therefore, it is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. The two-tone tang favours coral-rich reefs up to 60 metres deep, and grazes on red and green algae. It has a pointed,yellow-tinged face and a dark brown body streaked with fine, horizontal pale blue lines. With a maximum lifespan of 33 years, this species may reach up to 40 centimetres in length. In many parts of its range, the two-tone tang forms spawning aggregations, usually at dusk.