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Acanthuridae are the family of surgeonfishes, tangs, and unicornfishes. The family includes about 86 extant species of marine fish living in tropical seas, usually around coral reefs. Many of the species are brightly coloured and popular in aquaria.
The distinctive characteristic of the family is that they have scalpel-like modified scales, one or more on either side of the peduncle of the tail. The spines are dangerously sharp and may seriously injure anyone who carelessly handles such a fish. The dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are large, extending for most of the length of the body. The mouths are small and have a single row of teeth adapted to grazing on algae.
Surgeonfishes sometimes feed as solitary individuals, but they often travel and feed in schools. Feeding in schools may be a mechanism for overwhelming the highly aggressive defense responses of small territorial damselfishes that vigorously guard small patches of algae on coral reefs.
Most species are fairly small, with a maximum length of 15–40 cm (6–15.5 in), but some in the genus Acanthurus, some in the genus Prionurus, and most species in the genus Naso may grow larger; the whitemargin unicornfish (Naso annulatus) is the largest species in the family, reaching a length of up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in). These fishes may grow quickly in aquaria, so average growth size and suitability should be checked before adding them to any marine aquarium.