Saltwater Species Spotlight: The White Tailed Bristletooth Tang

Ctenochaetus flavicauda

The White Tailed Bristletooth Tang is a fairly obscure species in the marine aquarium hobby. This is due to only being found in the very remote islands of the Central Pacific, and its tendency to dart when spooked (which makes it much harder for divers to collect), which results in a very expensive fish ($200+ for a 3″ specimen) and therefore not a common choice amongst consumers. Though rare in the trade, it is truly a gorgeous fish that will always turns heads.

Parameters

Water Temp: 74 to 82 degrees

Origin: Central Pacific (French Polynesia, Hawaii, Cook Islands)

pH: 7.6 to 8.5

Max Size: 6 1/2 inches

Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons

Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Diet: Herbivore

Care Level : Moderate

Reef Safe: Yes

Characteristics / Behavior

The White tailed Bristletooth Tang is considered less aggressive than most tangs, and due to maxing out at only 6 1/2 inches, it is often kept comfortably in 4 foot aquariums. This is something I would agree with in my personal experience (all the pictures in this post are of my personal tang who lives happily with a yellow tang and several other smaller community fish in a 75 gallon reef tank).

They tend to be active swimmers, constantly looking for algae on live rock to graze on, and often spend their nights tucked away in the rock work.

Their body is mostly varying shades from a deep red to a purplish maroon, with yellow rimmed eyes and pectoral fins, orange ventral fins, a very thin line of electric blue along the very tips of the dorsal and anal dins, and of course the namesake snow white tail that offers a truly stunning contrast that makes this fish so desirable and is the greatest aesthetic difference between it and the much more common and affordable yellow eye khole tang.

Acclimation

tang swimming

Like all tangs, it is a moderately difficult fish to get acclimated to aquarium life. Tangs are very prone to ich when imported due to stress and a thin slime coat which normally protects healthy fish from external parasites. Therefore it is paramount to closely monitor new tangs and offer appropriate medication as needed(though be sure to read labels as many ich medications are not reef safe). Ideally you would quarantine any new fish entering your aquarium, but this is especially advisable with tangs.

They also are prone to developing HLLE (Head and Lateral Line Erosion). In the case of tangs this is often attributed to an unbalanced diet due to not getting enough plant matter which herbivorous tangs depend on. Therefore it is crucial that tangs are offered ample amounts of live rock coated in algae to graze on and more ideally fed nori and other types of algae and seaweed daily.

It is very common for this tang to spend its day using its uniquely shaped mouth to ‘rasp’ at the rocks and glass for food. This can make it difficult to adapt to eating more traditional aquarium foods suspended in the water column.

I personally struggled to get this fish to eat well when first introduced to my tank. He came in with ich and he didn’t seem interested in nori or any other type of seaweed I offered him. Over time when he got very hungry he would pick at nori very minimally if I cut it into thin strands and rubber banded it to a rock. After a  month of begrudgingly eating a small amount of nori he started eating frozen food after watching all of the other fish eat it. I started feeding spirulina gut loaded brine to try and get him some plant matter and this seemed to halt his weight loss. The real breakthrough came 4 months later when I added a yellow tang that was about the same size as him. This yellow tang had spent the last 3 years in an aquarium and was used to eating nori on a clip. I’m not sure if it was seeing another fish eat to show him what he was supposed to do, or if he just became more food aggressive seeing another tang eat his food(that admittedly he let rot away every day), or some combo of the two, but overnight he started eating nori aggressively and has been packing on the pounds ever since. This is my personal experience and yours may differ wildly, but hopefully it demonstrates the difficulties that can arise when buying one of these fish, and should be considered before purchasing one.

Tang Eating Square

Conclusion

This post is unfortunately written from a very biased position. My White Tailed Bristle Toothed Tang is my favorite fish and even though he set me back much more than I care to admit, I never tire of watching him and would highly recommend one to anyone willing to take on the initial acclimation difficulties associated with this tang. Give it time to settle in and you will have a truly stunning centerpiece fish or a beautiful addition to any larger communities.

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