Sailfin Tang

Pacific Sailfin Tang ~ Eastern Sailfin Tang ~ Ringed Tang

Family: Acanthuridae Picture of a Sailfin Tang or Pacific Sailfin Tang - Zebrasoma veliferumZebrasoma veliferumPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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my new sailfin tang doesn't eat , what can I do, please help  Aritra

   The Sailfin Tang is a hardy and attractive fish that is readily available and inexpensive, a good choice for a beginning marine enthusiast!

   Among its many attributes, the beauty and personality of the Sailfin Tang make it an outstanding addition to a marine aquarium. Like all seven of the sailfin tang species, when the fins of the Sailfin Tang are fully extended its height is about the same as its length, giving it a disk-shaped appearance. Though very similar looking to its close relative the Desjardin's Sailfin Tang Z. desjardinii, it is more common and is less expensive. It is hard to tell the difference between these two when they are young. As adults however the Pacific Sailfin Tang retains its attractive juvenile appearance though becoming less yellow, while the Desjardin's Sailfin Tang will change stripes for spots and lightens in color. They will both get quite large, in fact they are the largest of the Zebrasoma species.

   The Pacific Sailfin Tang is relatively peaceful and will get along with a wide variety of tank mates in a large community aquarium, but should be added last. Keep it singly as it does not mix with others of its same genus. 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 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 veliferum
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Acanthuridae
  • Genus: Zebrasoma
  • Species: veliferum
Zebrasoma veliferum young Sailfin tang
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Juvenile Sailfin Tang in captivity.

This is a good video showing the yellow juvenile coloring of a Sailfin Tang. As they get older, they will become darker with thinner white or yellow vertical lines alternating with wider brownish to grayish black bars. They will still have the yellow tail fin. By the time they are 4 years old, they will have grown to 80% of their adult size, which is 15.7," there after growing much slower. Males are larger than females and juveniles should be put in the 180 gallon tank that the adults will need. They are easy to care for as long as the tank is mature, 6 feet long and deep enough to accommodate their "tall" body/fins.

Sailfin Tang adult, Zebrasoma veliferum
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Adult in captivity

This is a perfect example of the color change that the Sailfin Tang goes through. This subadult has the darker coloring, yet the tell tail sign of the yellow tail fin which only the Sailfin Tang or Zebrasoma veliferum has as an adult. Around the 45 second mark you will see "posturing" as the Powder Blue Tang gets too close. This behavior should be carefully watched since one of them could stress to the point of illness. More than likely it will be the Powder Blue Tang. These both eat very similar foods which can cause compatibility problems as they both get older.

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Habitat: Natural geographic location:    The Sailfin Tang or Pacific Sailfin Tang was described by Bloch in 1795. They are found in the Pacific from the Indonesia and Australia area to Japan, Hawaii, and Tuamotu. In the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea it is replaced by its close relative the Desjardin's Sailfin Tang Z. desjardinii. In fact there are some authors that regard the Desjardin's as a variant of the Sailfin Tang.
   In their natural habitat they are found at depths between16 to 98 feet (5 - 30 meters) in lagoons, and in both seaward and shelter reefs. Adults are seen singly or in pairs in lagoons and may school in outer areas, while the juveniles are usually seen singly in dense coral areas, often areas with strong currents.

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

Description:    The Sailfin Tang or Pacific Sailfin Tang has a disk like shaped body similar to all surgeonfish, but with giant dorsal and anal fins that are approximately the same size as its body. When the fins of the sailfin tangs are fully extended, the total height of these fish is about the same as the length. All the sailfin tangs have extended snouts.

Picture of a juvenile Desjardin's Sailfin Tang or Red Sea Sailfin Tang - Zebrasoma desjardinii
Juvenile specimen

   The body of this fish has a beautiful striped patterning, broad pale yellow bands alternating with darker bands, all of which extend and blend into the dorsal and anal fins. The dark bands have some yellow markings, dots and stripes. The head is white with yellow spots and has the darkest band running though the eye with the a second very dark band just behind it. These bands also have yellow dots and lines in them. The caudal fin is yellow. Juveniles are similar to the adults, only with a more yellow coloring overall.
   On each side of the caudal peduncle is a single 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.
   The Sailfin Tang is very similar to the Desjardin's Sailfin Tang Z. desjardinii when they are both young. However the adult Desjardin's Sailfin Tang will change stripes for spots and lightens in color while the adult Pacific Sailfin Tang retains its juvenile coloration only with less yellow.

Length/Diameter of fish:    Adults reach up to 15.7 inches (40 cm), and are one of the largest of the Zebrasoma genus.

Maintenance difficulty:    The Sailfin Tang is a great addition to the marine aquarium and easy to keep. It can handle a wide range of water parameters, however 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:    The Sailfin Tangs are primarily herbivores. In the wild they feed primarily on leafy macroalgae algae. 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 75 gallon (284 liters) for a small juvenile, a 100 gallon (378 liters) for an adult.
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 Sailfin 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.
   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:    For most of the Zebrasoma species there is no sexual differences noted, but for this species the males tend to grow larger than the females.

Breeding/Reproduction:    Some species of surgeonfish have spawned in public aquariums and there have been a few scattered reports of spawning in home aquariums, but regular spawning and the rearing of the young has not yet been reported. Though the Sailfin Tang has not yet been bred in captivity, this species has been observed in pair spawning in the ocean.
   For information on breeding and the development of the fry, see: Marine Fish Breeding: Tangs.

Availability:   The Sailfin Tang or Pacific Sailfin Tang is generally readily available at retailers. They are priced from about $25.00 USD and up.

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

Aritra - 2019-05-29
my new sailfin tang doesn't eat , what can I do, please help

Leah CLaussen - 2017-02-07
I have a 125gal tank and I have 3 clowns, a lawnmower blenny, a foxface rabbitfish, and then I added a naso tang and sailfin tang at the same time. My sailfin killed the foxface and the naso. That was about a month ago. Today I put in a new foxface, changed the rock structure and he was already nipping at his fins. I didn't think they were supposed to be aggressive?

Luis Ruiz - 2012-03-28
I have a 65 gal. tank and I'm introduce a juvenile Sailfin tang recently and a have to deal with a Coral Beauty harass him every 5 or 10 minutes. What can I do?

  • Jeremy Roche - 2012-03-29
    Re-arrange the tank. That will sometimes distract the fish to find their new favorite spots and forget about the new guy.
  • Leah Stewart - 2014-10-06
    So i have found it best to do two things when ever i add a new fish. One i definately rearrange or add one or two things, try not to make one fish the only new thing in the tank. Then i always feed my tank  personaly a little heavier then normal this one feeding.) Its kind of a distraction and a reassurance the new fish will not affect their food. Ive had alot of success this way in many types of fish, in all water spectrums.
  • Anonymous - 2015-10-12
    I have a big sail fin in my 180 and he is VERY rude/territorial to new fish, so I'll assume once your sail fin gets bigger it won't be a big problem!
WaltC. - 2012-01-18
I have a large sailfin tang in my tank with 7 Blue-Green Chromis, a Niger Trigger (added last), Ocellaris Clownfish, Blue Spotted Sandsifting Goby, Black Top Butterfly,and an Anemone in a 75 gal. with a couple of Soft Soral. I plan on getting a Lemon Peel Angelfish and a Kole Tang, will this combination work?

  • Editor's Note - 2012-01-19
    Sounds like a fun group! To answer your question, I would say no. This is why.... a Lemon Peel angelfish needs all the algae it can get that is naturally growing on your live rock. They also need some mysis and other meaty foods, but 70% to 80% of it's intake is the algae growing on live rock. Your Sailfin Tang, I am sure keeps your algae under control, and would irritate the Lemon Peel Angelfish to the point of aggression or starvation of the Lemon Peel. The Lemon Peel may also make short work of some of your corals.

    Kole Tangs, IMO are a better choice since they will eat the detritus and some algae as well. A Kole Tang may be a victim of harassment in a 75 with a Sailfin Tang and a Lemon Peel in the same tank. Again,as for the Lemon Peel Angelfish, it is a gamble with your corals, but it may be okay, just that Centropyge really need the natural algae.

    Hope that helps and maybe you can illuminate to us the reason for your interest in these two fish.