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14 Most Popular Tang Fish for Saltwater Aquariums

Tang fish is a popular choice in aquariums, thanks to their bright colors and relatively docile nature. Their most popular variants are Blue and Yellow Tang fish. Blue Tangs rose in prominence due to the 2001 Disney flick, Finding Nemo.

In general, Tangs are not recommended to beginner hobbyists because they require massive tanks and are particularly susceptible to diseases.

They have bold personalities and add an excellent pop of color to marine tanks. In this guide, we’ll go over their care requirements in great detail.

Word of advice: they’re not easy to breed, and most stock is captured in the wild.

Species Overview

Level of CareModerate to Difficult
TemperamentPeaceful to semi-aggressive
AppearanceVarious colors in the rainbow
Life Expectancy8 to 20 years
Size10 inches to 24 inches depending on the species
DietHerbivorous species
Tank Size125-gallon tank
Tank EnvironmentSaltwater with spacious swimming space and rock-work for hiding and grazing
Tank MatesGenerally peaceful with other community fish

Tang Fish, also known as surgeonfish, come in a range of colors – from the stunning contrasts of yellow, blue, and black, to the subtle blend of yellows and browns. They belong to the Acanthuridae family, which includes well over 80 species of saltwater tang fish.

They are mostly found in the Pacific Ocean, but most species are now readily available in typical saltwater pet stores due to their popularity.

Many of the fish belonging to this family are brightly colored, making them ideal for saltwater hobbyists. If you are looking for a new fish to add to your marine tank, consider adding one of the several tang species from the Acanthuridae family.


All species of Tang Fish reach sizes of between 6 to 12 inches when fully grown. They can be found in a range of colors apart from the dominant sky blues they have famously known.

In the case of the Powder Blue Tang, their body is highly oval-shaped. The dorsal and pectoral fins have a bright yellow stripe that reaches to the tail.

At the end of the tail is another blue stripe. Their eyes are proportionally large and at the base of their tail fin is a razor-sharp scalpel that will cut. Tangs use their scalpels for protection against threats and predators.

Behavior & Temperament

Beautiful patterns and colorations characterize most saltwater fish, but what sets this species apart from other fish is its intelligence.

They’re like the fish equivalent of dogs – and act just how a dog would in front of its owner. They are aware of their owner’s presence and can even tell them apart from other strangers.

Besides this big personality bonus they bring into the tank, Tangs are some of the most voracious algae eaters. You’ll have to either source some from the local pet store or grow stock in your tank.

Best Tang Fish Types

The Acanthuridae family includes an extensive list of Tang Fish, surgeonfish, and unicornfish such as Powder Blue Tang, Purple Tang, and Naso Tang. In this section, we’ll briefly discuss the most popular tang fish species from the Acanthuridae family.

1. Powder Blue Tang

Powder blue tang

These Tang Fish (Acanthurus leucosternon) species are quite possibly, the most beautiful fish in any home aquarium. The Powder Blue Tang goes by several names, most of which are a reference to their appearance. Popular phrases for this fish include Atlantic Blue Tang and Translucent Blue Tang.

Tang Fish have a powder blue body with white highlights, a blackhead, and yellow dorsal fins. They are a bit expensive at $70,

but that’s okay given that beauty comes before price! They are semi-aggressive and pretty tall at about 9 inches, which necessitates a large tank that is at least 125 gallons big.

Tang Fish need to be fed on a diet comprising of protein-rich food and marine-based seaweed to retain their vivid colors. It will improve the Powder Blue Tang’s immune system and reduce aggression and its overall health.

2. Sailfin Tang

Sailfin tang

The Pacific Sailfin Tang Fish (Zebrasoma veliferum) goes by several names, such as Red Sea Sailfin Tang and the Desjardins Sailfin Tang. They’ve got a unique oval body with visually distinctive markings all over. It has a dark to light-brown color with light yellow freckles on the abdomen and the nose.

They can practically double their body size at will by raising or lowering their massive dorsal and anal fins. It is necessary to provide these fish with larger aquariums that are at least 130+ gallons or more.

Sailfin Tang Fish are aggressive towards their conspecifics and species, but they will do well with other fish so long as you can fulfill their requirements for a large tank.

They prefer to thrive on filamentous algae. The Red Sea Sailfin Tang diet consists of frozen herbivore food, marine algae, and other vegetarian selections such as dried seaweed and leaf lettuce.

3. Blue Tang

Blue tang

The Blue Tang Fish Latin name is Paracanthurus hepatus and goes by various names that reflect its bright, prominent blue markings, including Regal Tang, Palette Tang, and Hippo Blue Tang.

The Palette Tang Fish has exceptionally vivid, bright blue with black highlights and a yellow tailfin – all colors perfectly contrasting each other.

The Palette Tank fish is among the more straightforward tang varieties to keep for beginners.

It will wedge itself in corals and lie on its side when sleeping, so don’t be shocked when you see it engaging in this behavior!

They are pretty active and like to swim around, giving them at least 75 gallons of space to move around.

If you’ve seen Finding Nemo, then you’ve seen the Hippo Blue Tang. And yes, you can add ‘Marlin,’ aka “Clownfish” into the tank, and they will all live happily ever after.

Just make sure to provide ‘Dory’ with 125 gallons of moving space, or she’ll give Marlin a tough time in the tank.

4. Purple Tang

Purple tang

The Purple Tang Fish is known for its disk-shaped body and unique dark striped patterns, making it a welcome addition to just about any tank. Its scientific name is Zebrasoma xanthurum and was first described by Edward Blyth in 1852.

The Purple Tang has a purplish-blue color. From this, they got their name. The yellow accents on its pectoral fins and a prominent yellow tail earn it another common name, the Yellowtail Tang.

These fish are costly and will set you back around $200 to $400, depending on where you live. They grow to about 10 inches long and are exclusively found in the Red Sea.

5. Blonde Naso Tang

Blonde naso tang

The Blonde Naso Tang Fish, known by its scientific name Naso lituratus, is more brightly colored than other fish found in their local habitat. Common words for the Naso Tang include Orange-Spine Unicornfish and Barcheek Unicornfish.

The names come from its spine, which is bright fiery-orange and will stand out in just any setting. Juveniles have a yellow stripe on both the dorsal and anal fins.

The Blonde Naso Tang has a unique-looking head with a black and yellow mask that changes its color as it matures. It also develops steamers from the ends of the tail.

A fully grown Naso Tang will reach a size of up to 1 foot and 5 inches tall, which is massive compared to other tangs. You will need at least 180 gallons to house these guys. Despite their size, they are relatively peaceful and seldom, if ever, get aggressive.

6. Brown Tang

Brown tang

The Scopas Tang Fish is credited to be the hardiest and most disease-resistant tang in the fish family Acanthuridae. Their Latin name is Zebrasoma scopas, and they are found in significant numbers throughout the ocean.

The Scopas Tang has a unique color gradient that shifts from brown to dark if you trace the colors from front to back. Their body is surrounded by light blue markings that make them appear attractive.

They can reach sizes of up to 1 foot and thus, need a large tank to roam about at least 125 gallons.

The Scopas Tang will be aggressive towards its kind, and you should only keep one per tank to prevent too much infighting. Refer to the food section below to learn how to keep your Scopas Tang healthy and happy.

7. Whitecheek Tang

Whitecheek tang

The Whitecheek Tang Fish (Acanthurus nigricans) has a white mark on its cheek between the eyes and the mouth. Its anal, dorsal, and pectoral fins have deep blue, with the tip having distinct blue highlights.

The Whitecheek Tang also features a yellow striping that runs along its body, against the dorsal and anal fins, forming a very prominent fork-shaped marking.

They can reach up to 8 inches in size and need lots of space to move. It is best to provide the Whitecheek Tang with at least 125 gallons of swimming space.

8. Vlamingii Tang

Vlamingii tang

The Vlamingii Tang Fish (Naso vlamingii) goes by several names, including Bignose Unicornfish and Vlamingi’s Unicornfish.

They are a species of Unicornfish in the surgeonfish family and were first described by Valenciennes in 1835.

The Vlamingii Tang becomes more beautiful as it matures and has the unique ability to change its color to reflect its mood swings dramatically.

Depending on its mood, its color varies from pale to brilliant dark. Fish will have a slightly bluish tint in the wild, which becomes darker as the Vlamingii Tang approaches a reef and lighter when approaching a cleaning station.

When mating or when provoked, these fish will give off flashes of brilliant metallic blue lines – it’s like watching art come to life. They need a massive tank that is at least 125 gallons and must not be kept with conspecifics because they will fight to the death.

9. Achilles Tang

Achilles tang

Achilles Tang Fish (Acanthurus achilles), also known as the Achilles Surgeonfish or the Red-tailed Surgeon, originates in the Pacific Ocean.

It has very complex caretaking requirements, and we would not recommend them to beginners. Still, they will be extremely rewarding to advanced fishkeepers who are willing to go the extra mile.

They are stunning but challenging to keep in an aquarium setting. Very few aquarists have managed to keep these species alive in their home systems. Most Achilles will not get to live very long, making them the ‘Achilles’ heel of many aquarists.

It is a harsh truth to accept because their dark bodies and contrasting orange tail spot make the Achilles Tang a unique addition to any aquarium.

If you decide to give these guys a shot, prepare to invest in a tank with a volume of at least 180 gallons. They will cost you, though, over $300 per Achilles Tang.

10. Chevron Tang

Chevron tang

The Chevron Tang Fish (Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis) is strikingly handsome thanks to its vivid orange body and head with those prominent bright blue lines, almost radiating in the right lighting conditions.

Juveniles Chevron tang is described as more beautiful than adults who will develop a red-orange coloration with several thin dark green lines.

These fish will reach a size of up to 12 inches in the wild, mostly going 9” within the first five years or so.

They have a very long life span, reportedly around 30 to 45 years. Because of their size and semi-aggressive temper, the Chevron Tang should not be kept in a small aquarium and must be kept in a 125-gallon tank.

11. Blue Unicorn Tang

Blue unicorn tang

The Blue Unicorn Tang Fish (Naso brevirostris) has bright blue stripes running along with its anal and dorsal fins. As they grow older, their body assumes a unique ‘bullet-like’ shape, and the color becomes more grayish with blue hints here and there.

Their mouth is light blue, and their dorsal fins are thinly edged with blue hues. Two bluish knife-like spines will grow on either side of their caudal peduncle. A unique physical characteristic is a single bony nose that grows out of their head, reaching a size of 6”.

Adults will reach a massive size of about 27 inches, making it mandatory to keep them in huge tanks that can offer at least 360 gallons of swimming space.

Some specimens will reach 2 feet, which requires upgrading to an even bigger tank. The difficulty level for the Blue Unicorn Tang is very high. Only experienced saltwater aquarists should give them a shot.

12. Kole Tang

Kole tang

Kole Tang Fish, the scientific name Ctenochaetus strigosus, is also known as Spotted Surgeon Fish, Goldring Surgeonfish, and Yellow-Eyed Tang.

They feature an oval-shaped body with bold markings that change as they grow older. Juveniles feature a yellow-colored body with handsome stripes and spots. As they mature into adults, their body color assumes a darker tone described as a brown to burgundy hue.

The Kole Tang mostly reaches a size of 7”, which is on the shorter side compared to other fish in the Acanthuridae family. It is why you can get away with a 70-gallon tank.

The difficulty level for the Kole Tang is considered to be on the higher end of the spectrum, mainly because they need a more oxygen-rich environment and lots of water movement.

13. Tomini Tang

Tomini tang

Ctenochaetus tominiensis, also known as Tomini Tang and Tomini surgeonfish, is prevalent in most home aquariums because it never exceeds a max size of 6” as an adult.

The Tomini Tang has a well-developed immune system that allows it to fight off many diseases that would otherwise kill others. They have a prominent brown body with a blue tail, and their anal and dorsal fins feature a distinct golden-yellow color.

Tiny golden flecks surround Their eyes with a golden half circle beneath them. Because the Tomini Tang is relatively small at only 6”, they can make do in a 70-gallon tank.

Like other fish in the Acanthuridae family, they will be aggressive towards their conspecifics but will get along well with other fish.

14. Yellow Tang

Two yellow tangs

The Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) has a vibrant yellow-colored body that earns many names, including the simple Yellow Tang Fish and the Mimic Yellow Tang.

They have a distinct oval-shaped body that will significantly contrast against much of the aquarium and truly stand out. The Mimic Yellow Tang is easy to find in most saltwater stores and isn’t very costly either, mostly staying under $100.

The Yellow Tang’s care sheet is less demanding, allowing it to be adopted by most beginners.

It is worth noting that they will reach a size of 8” as adults and will need a minimum tank size of 100 gallons because they need a lot of room to swim and glide. It makes them above-intermediate in terms of difficulty for most fishkeepers.

Food & Diet

As we mentioned earlier, tangs love to eat algae and thrive in a tank with a lot of it. Unfortunately, algae’s uncontrolled growth is often accompanied by high phosphates and nitrates, both of which are detrimental to the fish’s health.

Tangs also benefit from supplemental green food like lettuce or nori. You can feed them this kind of food with a veggie clip.

Nori is readily available in most pet stores and shouldn’t be hard to come by. Tangs may also like live food such as brine shrimp, although they are primarily herbivorous.

Below is a list of food that will keep your tang healthy:

  • Sea vegetables like lettuce and spirulina
  • Mysis shrimp and frozen brine
  • Live worms
  • Algae
  • Dried seaweed

You’ll notice that when well fed, female tangs tend to grow bigger in length than males. As a general rule, you should provide them at least three times every day.

Tank Mates

Most tangs do not get along well with other tangs and are aggressively territorial. If you put two tangs from the same species together, they will fight each other.

They have incredibly sharp scalpels that they could use to cut each other up. It isn’t advised to put more than one species in the same environment. It is right in the case of sailfin tangs because they will attack other surgeonfish.

With that warning out of the way, tangs rarely bother invertebrates, although some species have been known to nip at polyp stony corals or clam mantles. Tangs are also compatible with most other fish.

In the wild, they have been observed to form a symbiotic relationship with cleaner wrasses because they help remove parasites from their bodies.

It’s not easy for beginners to provide for wrasses because they have complicated care instructions. Alternative options such as cleaner shrimps and neon gobies can tang a ‘cleaning service’ in a home aquarium.

Tank Requirements

To understand what tangs need in an average home aquarium, you must first know how it lives in the wild.

The goal is to mimic their natural habitat in your saltwater tank to allow the tangs to not only survive but also thrive.

In their natural habitat, tangs enjoy large swathes of unadulterated access to the ocean and intricate reef systems.

They’re always on the move and occupy brighter areas of the reef. They can also be found in shallow water reefs, mostly on reef crests, and sometimes can be seen eating algal growths on reefs.

The water in these areas moves a lot due to waves and surface currents. You have to mimic this movement and provide optimal water quality while creating as much swimming space in the tank as possible.

Because tangs are always on the move, they need massive tanks to help minimize any aggression among the fish.

While you can make do with something as small as 50 gallons, they should not be kept in tanks smaller than 100+ gallons. In the wild, they often swim in shoals, sometimes in pairs or with similar fish.

Tank Setup: Things to Add

Tangs love to explore caves, crevices, and trenches. Therefore, you should place lots of live rock rubbles both in the main tank and in the refugium because tangs generate a ton of bio-load, which can quickly upset the water’s conditions without something to provide counter-balance.

Besides, live rock’s presence gives algae and other plant materials more surfaces to grow on, and subsequently, more food for the tang to eat.

Do not overpopulate the tank with rocks; otherwise, it could restrict the movement space for tangs.

Make sure to properly secure the rock in place because tangs will easily dislodge objects from their positions.

Reduce nitrates and ammonia levels because this fish is susceptible to water with high levels of organic chemicals. Before introducing another fish into the tank, ensure they are adequately quarantined because tangs are very vulnerable to diseases and virus outbreaks.

It is a good idea to add a small ozonizer to your tank. It has several benefits for your tank, from breaking down pollutants to killing parasites and pathogens.

Before installing an ozonizer in the tank, make sure it is adequately calibrated regularly and reliable. An ozone overdose has the potential to wipe out your entire stock in just a couple of hours.

You will also need to install a refugium in your tank to absorb the significant amount of phosphates and nitrates that tangs are known to generate. Corals are especially susceptible to detectable phosphate levels and will not survive.

Breeding Guidelines

Not much is known about breeding tangs in the wild. The female and male will release eggs and sperm into the water column after a courting ritual, much the same way as angelfish.

It is almost impossible to breed them in captivity, and even if you do get a pair to mate, you’ll have a hard time taking care of fry because they are susceptible to water conditions.

Adult tangs are quite prone to disease and fry, even more so, especially when they live in a closed space (which is the case in home aquariums).

However, if you are adamant about mating tangs, you should place them in a separate tank with at least 175 gallons big without any other fish sharing the same space.

Your goal should be to create nearly perfect water chemistry to kickstart the spawning process. If you manage to successfully get your tang pair to mate and grow fry into adulthood – you’d probably be among the rare few individuals in the world ever to do so.

Juvenile yellow tang on coral reef
Juvenile Yellow Tang

Common Diseases and Dangers

Tangs are incredibly vulnerable to diseases, which is why they’re not ideal for beginners. They will often be the first species in the aquarium to show signs of infection,

usually because of stress brought on by the low quality of water. To keep parasites at bay, you should install an ozonizer to kill harmful organisms.

The diet also plays an important role. A well-fed tang develops more muscular immune systems to resist disease and survive infections.

If your tang died under mysterious circumstances, it could be possible that you introduced fish, food, or décor items such as live rocks without quarantining them first.

It is highly recommended to buy a quarantine tank and ensure any new purchases are free of parasites and infections. Before buying the fish, ask the dealer if they’ve taken the necessary steps to kill any parasites.

You should still err on the side of caution and quarantine your new pets before introducing them into the tank. Quarantine your new pets for at least a month.

Watch out for Blackspot disease in Tang Fish.

Black spot disease, also known as tang disease, is caused by parasites that commonly infest Tangs and other surgeonfish, but it can attack other fish species and shellfish.

Black spots on tangs develop because of small Paravortex turbellaria flatworms that embed in the fish’s skin. Black spot disease is not very life-threatening or dangerous and is relatively easier to treat than protozoan parasites such as Brooklynella and Cryptocaryon.

The obvious symptom of the disease is the appearance of prominent black spots about the size of a grain of salt on the fin and body membranes.

The worm can freely move about on the fish, and as a result, the black spots indicate where they are currently located.

The spots are easier to see on light-colored tangs, whereas, on darker-toned tangs, the spots may go unnoticed until they become too prominent to ignore.

Infected tangs will scratch their bodies against other objects or the substrate to remove the parasite.

If the infestation is allowed to progress, the fish will lose its appetite, and colors, and become lethargic. If the infestation spreads to the disease, it will affect respiration and invade damaged tissue sites.

The most effective treatment is to give the infested tang a freshwater dip followed by a formalin bath. Make sure that the tang is in a separate quarantine tank when it is affected. The prescription drug Praziquantel is sometimes used to treat affected tangs.

The most effective way to prevent reinfestation is to evacuate the tank and let the infestation die naturally. Without a host, the worms will eventually die. To speed the process, siphon up any excess organic matter that has been collected near the substrate.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is a blue tang fish?

The average price for a Blue Tang Fish is about $80 to $130, depending on its age, health, activity level, size, and other factors.

How big do blue tang fish grow?

Female blue tang fish grow to a size of about 5 inches. Males are generally shorter and only reach a length of 4.5 inches.

Where do yellow tang fish live?

Yellow tang fish originate in the Indian and Pacific oceans and prefer to live in subtropical waters. They live between the depths of about 6 feet of water to over 150 feet. They are native to the seas near the Hawaiian Islands, Vietnam, Japan, and Hong Kong.

Where to buy tang fish?

Because of their popularity, most species of tangs are readily available in saltwater pet stores near you. Your best bet, however, should be to purchase them from online stores and online forums.

You can also contact specialist breeders if you want rare breeds that are not found in average saltwater pet stores. Prepare to pay a hefty price for these species, however, because tang fish for sale will cost anywhere from $70 to over $5000 depending on the variety.

Wrapping Up

As long as you have some experience going into saltwater fishkeeping and you follow the care guidelines for your tang fish species, it would help if you did okay.

Tangs only face problems when aquarists fail to provide them with the ideal environment and conditions they get in the wild. It is impossible to care for tangs, but you should be realistic about your skills when choosing this saltwater fish.