What Do Surgeonfish Eat?

A surgeonfish has sharp spines at the base of its tail.
A surgeonfish has sharp spines at the base of its tail. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

A number of surgeonfish feature prominently in the saltwater aquarium trade. Many species of surgeonfish have beautiful colors, and they get along well with both fish and coral. This makes them great candidates for reef tanks and other saltwater aquariums -- assuming their nutritional needs are met.

Grocery Store Foods

Surgeonfish need a mostly vegetarian diet. In the home aquarium, you can feed them a number of grocery store foods. Surgeonfish love veggies like zucchini, romaine lettuce, bok choy, broccoli and spinach. Since most of these foods tend to float, use a veggie clip -- a plastic clip, secured to the side of the aquarium via a suction cup -- to feed them to your surgeonfish. Many high-end pet shops sell veggie clips.

Surgeonfish are also called tangs.
Surgeonfish are also called tangs. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Prepared Foods

Pet shops that specialize in saltwater fish often carry prepared foods designed for vegetarian fish like surgeonfish. These prepared foods are typically rich in various types of algae that mimic the surgeonfish's natural diet. These include nori, sheets of seaweed and spirulina, a nutritionally rich freshwater algae. Surgeon fish will usually relish this type of food, since it resembles -- or even includes -- the types of food they encounter in their natural habitat.

Surgeonfish are primarily vegetarian.
Surgeonfish are primarily vegetarian. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)


In aquariums, surgeonfish will typically browse on live rock, as they would on a reef. Surgeonfishes will constantly pick at rock, looking for bits of algae to eat. Most of the time, surgeonfish won't bother coral or other immobile invertebrates, providing you keep them well fed. However, this varies by species and from individual to individual. Still, surgeonfish are generally reef-safe. As an added bonus, most surgeonfish will eat bristleworms, a common pest in reef aquariums.

Surgeonfish -- like this unicorn tang -- rarely harm sessile invertebrates.
Surgeonfish -- like this unicorn tang -- rarely harm sessile invertebrates. (Image: Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Meaty Foods

Though surgeonfish mostly eat veggies, they also enjoy the occasional meaty food. In the wild, they eat some plankton in addition to algae. In the aquarium, you can replicate this by feeding your surgeonfish live foods like brine shrimp or mysis shrimp. You can purchase these foods online or in high-end pet shops.

Surgeonfish enjoy the occasional live treat.
Surgeonfish enjoy the occasional live treat. (Image: Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

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