Yellow Tang

Yellow Sailfin Tang ~ Lemon Sailfin

Family: Acanthuridae Picture of a Yellow Tang or Yellow Sailfin Tang - Zebrasoma flavescensZebrasoma flavescensPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild
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Hello Can i keep 8-10 yellow tang together in same tank, my stocking list plan is as follows 8-10 yellow tang 8-10 bangai cardinal 2 percula Clean up crew That... (more)  Jaival Parikh

   The Yellow Tang or Yellow Sailfin Tang is perhaps the best tang for a beginning marine enthusiast and will provide hours of pleasure each day!

   By far the most popular tang available, the Yellow Tang or Yellow Sailfin Tang is also one of the ten most popular marine aquarium species. Their obvious attributes include their bright color, hardiness, and low cost; but they are also slow growing and long lived. Like all seven of the sailfin tang species, when the fins of the Yellow Tang are fully extended its height is about the same as its length, giving it a disk-shaped appearance. A good healthy Yellow Tang will be curious about you and its environment, and will be active all day.

   The Yellow Tang makes a wonderful addition to the marine aquarium, especially a community aquarium. It is relatively peaceful and will get along with a wide variety of tank mates. It is usually best kept singly as it does not generally mix with others of its genus. Unlike any of the other Zebrasoma species though, if it is added with others of its same species when very young they may be successfully kept together. Bold in nature, it will quickly adapt to aquarium fare and is easy to care for once it is settled. One of the hardiest of the surgeonfish, it is highly disease resistant in a quality environment and responds well to treatment.

   There are some things that the Zebrasoma species have in common with all the surgeonfish and tangs. They like plenty of water movement to provide an oxygen rich environment rather than a placid aquarium. They are quick and agile swimmers so will need lots of swimming space along with plenty of crevices among corals/ rocks to retreat into and for sleeping at night. Being voracious algae eaters, an aquarium with good algae growth will provide for their nutritional needs as well as making them excellent candidates for a reef environment.

For more Information on keeping marine fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Marine Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Zebrasoma flavescens
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Acanthuridae
  • Genus: Zebrasoma
  • Species: flavescens
Scopas Tang, Zebrasoma Scopas and Yellow Tang
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Darker Scopas Tang as it ages.

This video shows the most common coloring an aquarist will come across once their Scopas Tang ages. Although they are known to interbreed with Yellow Tangs, this duet will undoubtedly start warring as they get older, within the next 4 to 6 years. The aquarist no doubt has this video just to show them off or may be a quarantine tank. A 300 gallon or larger tank would be needed to safely house these two, since this genus rarely tolerates one another, even if they are male and female. Tanks need to be mature and stable before adding tangs, along with strong water movement, strong filtration and lots of places to hide.

Yellow Tang, Zebrasoma flavescens, Reef Tank - 11 years old Yellow tang - Slow Motion
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Great slo-mo-video!

This adult Yellow Tang seems very happy and healthy in this leather coral tank! The slow motion just makes viewing this big guy mesmerizing! Male yellow tangs grow slower than females, yet eventually pass them up in size, reaching 8" (20 cm), and needing a 125 gallon (6 feet long minimum) tank. Tangs love to swim very fast, produce a lot of waste, and need lots of food to be healthy. Feed them marine algae and you will have a Yellow Tang for up to 45 years!

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Habitat: Natural geographic location:    The Yellow Tang or Yellow Sailfin Tang was described by Bennett in 1828. They are found in the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii; Ryukyu, Mariana, Marshall, Marcus, Wake and Hawaiian islands. It has also been reported off the coast of Florida in the Western Central Atlantic.
   In their natural habitat they are found at depths between 10 to 150 feet (3 - 46 meters) in lagoons and outer reefs. They inhabit areas of dense coral and occur singly, in pairs, or in loose groups both small and large depending on the area. Juveniles are solitary and very secretive, hiding among the corals. Though collected in many geographic areas, they are exported mainly from Hawaii. In fact, they are Hawaii's top marine fish export.
   It is a very close relative to the Twotone Tang Z. scopas, which also has a known color form that is yellow with a white peduncle spine. These two species co-occur and interbreed in Micronesia and southern Japan. As they co-habitat in many areas and behave the same, it has not been ruled out that this tang may actually be a xanthic form of the Z. scopas, or possibly a geographic variant.

Status:    These fish are not listed on the IUCN Red List.

Description:    The Yellow Tang has a disk like shaped body similar to all surgeonfish, but with large dorsal and anal fins. When the fins are fully extended, the total height of these fish is about the same as the length. Like all the sailfin tangs, they have a slightly extended snout. True to their name, the body is a beautiful rich yellow.
   On each side of the caudal peduncle is a single white spine or "scalpel" used for defense or dominance. When not in use the spine is folded down into a groove. Caution needs to be exercised when handling surgeonfish as a cut from its scalpel can cause discoloration and swelling of the skin with a high risk of infection. The pain lasts for hours then still ends up having a dull ache.

Length/Diameter of fish:    Adults reach up to 7.9 inches (20 cm), but are slow growing and long lived in the aquarium.

Maintenance difficulty:    The Yellow Tang is a great addition to the marine aquarium as it is very hardy and easy to keep. This fish can handle just about any challenge in the marine environment except for poor water quality. Even so it will do best in an environment that provides consistency, not only in water conditions and quality, but also in decor and fellow inhabitants. It can be housed in a fish only tank or in a reef environment as it will not harm corals or invertebrates. It is highly disease resistant and responds well to treatment when ill.
   There are some Acanthuridae members that are delicate and will require more specific care, but most will respond well if you employ a few technical considerations. All surgeonfish need an aquarium with plenty of aeration, a strong current will help to provide good oxygenation. Provide plenty of space, especially for adult specimens, along with lots of rocks/ corals with crevices for retreating and for sleeping. This decor will also lend itself to algae growth which surgeonfish enjoy grazing on, making them a valuable addition to a reef environment.
   Surgeonfish and tangs are continuous feeders and they need to be provided a proper diet. They are susceptible to nutritional disorders which may cause color loss and LLD (lateral line disease). Supplementing their diet with the addition of vitamin C to their food or adding a vitamin supplement directly to their water can help to avoid or aid in reducing these ailments. They are also susceptible to bacteria resulting from organic buildup which deteriorates water quality. Consequently they will need vigorous filtration, protein skimming, and regular small water changes.
   Many of the Acanthuridae members are very colorful, active, and attractive to aquarists. But they do not produce as much skin mucus on their bodies as other fish and can be susceptible to diseases such as Marine Ich and Marine Velvet. Surgeonfish are definitely a candidate for quarantine when you first receive them. They can be treated successfully with medical care or copper drugs, but because they have an important microfauna in their digestive system, prolonged or continuous use of a copper treatment is not advisable.
   In the wild a cleaner wrasse (Labroides sp.) will help them by taking parasites from their bodies, however these wrasses are extremely difficult to sustain in captivity. Alternative fish such as Neon Gobies (Gobiosoma sp.) or cleaner shrimp can help them by providing this cleaning service in the home aquarium.

Diseases that Surgeonfish and Tangs are susceptible to:
Marine Ich (white spot disease), Marine Velvet
and Lateral Line Erosion (LLE)

Foods:    Yellow Tangs are primarily herbivores. In the wild they feed mainly on filamentous algae which they scrape from hard surfaces. This genus can store fat in their body cavities so may go through periods of non-feeding.
   In the aquarium the majority of their intake will be vegetable matter, but they do need some meaty foods as well. Provide lots of marine algae, prepared frozen formulas containing algae or spirulina, frozen brine and mysid shrimp, and flake foods. Japanese Nori or other seaweed can be adhered to the aquarium glass with a vegetable clip. An occasional live rock with micro and macro organisms will be greatly appreciated. Culturing macro algae like chaetomorphia in the tank is also a great idea. Feed 3 times a day in smaller amounts instead of a large quantity once a day. As continuous grazers, they will benefit from this and it will also keep the water quality higher over a longer period of time.
   Providing a vitamin supplement (including vitamin C) can help provide for their nutritional needs, and vitamin C can help prevent or reduce Lateral Line Erosion (LLE). This can be done by soaking dried pellets with liquid vitamins, adding vitamins to the food, or adding a liquid vitamin into the water. It is also said that pellets soaked in garlic may help fend off Marine Ich. Some hobbyists also report success with supplemental foods such as previously boiled or frozen zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and leaf lettuce.

Maintenance:    A quick and agile swimmer it will spend a good deal of its time in the open water and moving in and out of crevices. Frequent water changes are not necessary, rather normal water changes at 10% biweekly or 20% monthly are fine.
   For more information see, Marine Aquarium Basics: Maintenance

Aquarium Parameters:
   All surgeonfish/ tangs are quick agile swimmers and need lots of open areas. To feel secure they also need rocks/ corals with many nooks and crannies to hide in and to wedge themselves into at night for sleeping. This fish will not bother corals or inverts but it will graze on algae, so it highly useful in a reef environment. However keep corals glued down, as their quick speeds may topple a coral or two. They thrive well in tanks with algae growth.
Minimum Tank Length/Size:
   A minimum 50 gallon (189 liters).
Light: Recommended light levels
   It nature it is found in sunlit areas. It can be kept under normal lighting conditions in the aquarium, but can also be kept under very bright light as long as some dimly lit spaces are provided.
   This species lives in tropical areas. Temperatures between 74 -82° F (23 - 28° C) will serve them well.
Water Movement: Weak, Moderate, Strong
   All surgeonfish and tangs thrive with good water movement, need lots of oxygen, and love to have the water rushing over their gills at times. Provide strong movement in at least one area of the tank.
Water Region: Top, Middle, Bottom
   It will spend time in the open water and darting in and out of the rocks/ corals. It will sleep in crevices at night.

Social Behaviors:    The great thing about the Yellow Tang is that they are fine in a reef setting with inverts and corals, and they will graze on the algae. They can also be kept in a fish only community tank with peaceful tank mates. This fish is mild tempered and gets along with most fish except others of their own genus. Though unlike any of the other Zebrasoma species, if added with others of its same species when very young they may be successfully kept together.
   Surgeonfish and tangs can be territorial, sometimes just with their own kind and sometimes with other species. Introducing a new surgeonfish into an aquarium that already houses one or more is usually a problem. It is best to initially introduce several species together rather than adding a new one later on. Though a large aquarium can help alleviate many problems, be aware of the social behaviors of any species you are considering to prevent compatibility problems.
   You may successfully pair this tang with different genus' as long as there are no similarities. One example of mixing genus in a large tank without incident would be to house a Naso Tang, Yellow Tang, and a Hippo Tang Adding them together initially works best. When adding a new member to an established group, changing the rock work will often alleviate any aggression to the "new guy". A little chasing will occur, but usually nothing detrimental.

Sex: Sexual differences:    No sexual differences are noted, though possibly the male may tend to be larger than the female.

Breeding/Reproduction:    Some species of surgeonfish have spawned in public aquariums and there have been a few scattered reports of spawnings in home aquariums, but regular spawnings and the rearing of the young has not yet been reported. Though the Yellow Tang has not yet been bred in captivity, this species has been observed in group spawning as well as pair spawning in the ocean. In pair spawning each males will defend a territory and attempt to attract females passing by.
   For information on breeding and the development of the fry, see: Marine Fish Breeding: Tangs. Picture of a Yellow Tang or Yellow Sailfin Tang - Zebrasoma flavescens

Availability:   The Yellow Tang or Yellow Sailfin Tang is readily available at retailers and is inexpensive. They are priced starting at about $25.00 USD.

Authors: David Brough, CFS and Clarice Brough, CFS
Lastest Animal Stories on Yellow Tang

Jaival Parikh - 2013-01-26
Hello Can i keep 8-10 yellow tang together in same tank, my stocking list plan is as follows 8-10 yellow tang 8-10 bangai cardinal 2 percula Clean up crew That should be it. Tank size is 7ftX3ftX2.5ft with a 5X2X2 feet sump Thanks

  • Jeremy Roche - 2013-01-26
    8-10 tangs alone need a much bigger tank.  They need plenty of places to bed down at night to sleep.  I would get a much bigger tnak or cut down to 2 tangs.
  • Anonymous - 2013-02-15
    good luck with that
  • Daniel Bleier - 2014-08-01
    8-10 tangs would be far too many in a tank that size. My tank is 7'x2'x2' and I house 1 yellow, 1 purple, and 1scopas tang and trust me that is the limit. They have been ok for 3 years now but still show aggression at least twice a week.
  • CJ - 2019-05-17
    If you do it right you will be fine. I have up to 18 fish in a 400 litre Aqua One Tank with over half of them being mixed Tangs with no problems what so ever, also full of Coral with every square inch covered in Purple and Pink Coraline Algea. Water change when once a month keep dosing for the corals and keep them full of greens as well as frozens and you can have one of the nicest aquariums around. I still have this Tank along with a very full 500 litre and a 220 with Four Powder Blues in it.
Rachel Dixon - 2004-04-14
I have had my beautiful yellow tang for nearly 2 years, he has done so well,from 2 inches to 5!

  • Bdog - 2017-02-15
    Mine is 16 years old and going strong
Anonymous - 2006-08-27
I have two yellow tangs in my salt water aquarium and they are very friendly with other fishes and they are nice to each other too. I wonder why people only prefer algae because I seldom feed them with it and they love to eat other things that rest of the fishes eat like mysis shrimp, pellets, etc. I have also fed them with regular shrimp that we eat and they love it.
So I guess its all about watching and knowing your fishes, because every fish is different.

  • Clarence Green - 2016-07-18
    Tangs need algae to stay healthy they are prone to HILLE and needs algae to stay healthy
Anonymous - 2013-04-17
It's cruel to keep a Yellow tang in a system less than a 1000 liters.

  • Clarice Brough - 2013-04-17
    Especially for their long term environment! Juveniles can be kept in a smaller tank, but eventually they will need adequate space.
  • Ianonymous - 2016-05-02
    Is cruel to take them out of the wild
  • Clarence Green - 2016-07-18
    75 gallons is as small as I would go with a yellow tang as most tangs need at least a 6ft tank they swim miles everyday in oceans a smaller tank will stress out these fish