The Yellowfin Surgeonfish is one very big fish, in fact, a fisherman will often find one on his hook!

The Yellowfin Tang juvenile starts out all yellow, but eventually loses all their yellow, except for, yep you guessed it, the fins. Well, the outer 3/4 of the pectoral fins to be exact. The rest of the adult body can range from a purple-gray to brown base with a pattern of irregular longitudinal narrow bands. These oval fish sometimes have a yellow band over the eyes. Yellowfin Tangs also have a blue stripe that runs along the base of the dorsal fin and the dorsal and the anal fins have four to five alternating blue and yellow bands. The moon shaped tail fin is a dull purplish color, with the inside edge being a faint white. On each side of the caudal peduncle is a relatively small single spine or scalpel, it is dark sometimes circled with a light coloration. Females can reach 27.5†and males are closer to 22†and they can live 30 to 45 years (Choat and Axe 1996). This fish is best suited for intermediate aquarists.

The yellow patch across the eye can also be seen on some very similar species, the Ringtail Tang, A. blochii and the Eyestripe Tang, A. dussumieri. But the Yellowfin Tang can be distinguished from these others by the lack of spots on its caudal fin and its yellow pectoral fins. One of the larger Acanthurus, this species of surgeonfish is one of the few that is poisonous. They are the largest of the Acanthurus genus and are found over the largest geographic area of the globe and at some of the greatest depths, having reportedly been observed by submarines at 295 feet (90 meters) deep.

The biggest challenge is their size. Just about everything to do with the Yellowfin Surgeonfish is extensive and big. Their diet consists of about the widest variety of foods for the surgeonfish, and they are said to be one of the few that will take bait from a fisherman.They are capable of enormous changes in color pattern and they grow very quickly.

Not much is known of their personality as they are not generally kept in captivity, but as with other Acanthurus the Yellowfin Surgeonfish is probably not overly aggressive, except toward its own genus. It may also fight with other surgeonfish or tangs, especially new additions to their aquarium. It can be kept in a fish only tank as long as there is plenty of swimming room and some rocks/ corals with nooks and crannies to hide in. Surgeonfish like water turbulence, juveniles especially, and they are not too picky about foods once settled. Like with most surgeonfish, this can be accomplished by initially offering a good macro algae. Some hard corals and polyps may be at risk along with some inverts like worms and small snails.

Provide a tank that is at least 360 gallons or more and closer to 500 if you are keeping the Yellowfin Tang with other tangs. A voracious algae eater, the Yellowfin Surgeonfish can be also be kept in a limited reef environment. They are one of the Acanthurus species with a gizzard-like stomach, which lends itself to eating habits similar to those of the Ctenochaetus species, such as the Yellow-eyed or Kole Tang. They will sift or ‘suck’ the sand ingesting detritus, algae, pieces of fish, and any other food that presents itself. Lower temperatures provide more oxygen, so keeping it around 72 to 78ËšF is best.

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

Yellowfin Tang, Acanthurus xanthopterus

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In the wild!

This is a beautiful fish with a huge personality to go along with it’s huge size! The Yellowfin Tang grows to 27.5″ and starts out as a little yellow baby, however as an adult their pectoral fins and face mask are the only thing left of their yellow coloring! They are high energy fish that need to be fed 3 times a day or more and housed in a minimum tank size of 360 gallons. That size is if they are the only tang in the tank! Want more tangs, try 500 gallons or more.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Acanthuridae
  • Genus: Acanthurus
  • Species: xanthopterus
Yellowfin Surgeonfish – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 360 gal (1,363 L)
  • Size of fish – inches: 27.5 inches (69.85 cm)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 78.0° F (22.2 to 25.6&deg C)
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Yellowfin Tang, Acanthurus xanthopterus, was described by Valenciennes, in 1835. The many names they are known by generally are descriptive and they are Cuvier’s Surgeonfish, Purple Surgeonfish, Ring-Tailed Surgeonfish, Surgeonfish, Yellow-Mask Surgeon, Yellowfin Surgeonfish, and Yellowfin Tang.

This is one of the most widely distributed surgeonfish. Their range basically stretches to most tropical waters from the lower Gulf of California all the way around to East Africa, heavily concentrated from Japan to Northern Australia. They live in various habitats including the deeper waters of outer reefs and reef slopes, and also in sandy bottomed bays and lagoons. Juveniles enjoy more turbid waters that are shallow and protected. They are found at depths of 3 to 328 feet (1 – 100 meters). These large tangs feed on benthic weeds, algae, hard corals, detritus, benthic crustaceans, polyps (hydroids), mollusks and worms.

In their natural habitat adults are sometimes found singly but they also like to school and will be seen in loose aggregations. Juveniles are initially quite wary, hiding in crevices among rubble and rocks, but soon the need for feeding draws them into small mixed groups. Seeking protection in numbers, these groups will consist of surgeonfish and various other like sized fish that will feed on the bottom and roam the edges of shallow reefs. Larger juveniles will begin teaming up with others of their own species.

Similar Species:

Ringtail Tang, (A. blochii): Has the same yellow patch across the eye.

Eyestripe Tang, (A. dussumieri): Has yellow patch across the eye, yet lacks spots the caudal fin and lacks yellow pectoral fins.

The Yellowfin Tang is on the IUCN Red List for least concern.

  • Scientific Name: Acanthurus xanthopterus
  • Social Grouping: Pairs
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Yellowfin Tang is enormously variable in color. The body can range from a purple-gray to brown base on their oval disk like bodies, to a pattern of irregular longitudinal narrow bands. They have a few distinguishing features that make them easy to identify such as yellow on the outer third of their pectoral fins, and sometimes a yellow band over the eye. The have a blue stripe that runs along the base of the dorsal fin and the dorsal and anal fins sport four to five alternating blue and yellow bands. The moon shaped caudal fin is a dull purplish color, often the inside edge of the crescent is a faint white. On each side of the caudal peduncle is a relatively small single spine or scalpel, it is dark sometimes circled with a light coloration.

Yellowfin Tangs go through beautiful coloration as they grow from juvenile to adult. The fins on the juvenile are yellow, which is retained only on the outer third of the pectoral fins when they mature. They caudal fin is also yellow, changing to the dull purplish color as an adult.

Adult females can reach 27 1/2 inches (70 cm), however males are smaller, which may account for the various sizes reported. Males are closer to 22 inches (56 cm). All tangs can live from 30 to 45 years (Choat and Axe 1996).

  • Size of fish – inches: 27.5 inches (69.85 cm) – Males are smaller and closer to 22″
  • Lifespan: 30 years – Can live 30 to 45 years.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Yellowfin Tang is moderately easy to care for as long as it has an adequate environment and its nutritional needs are met. This particular surgeonfish is only suitable for a very very large aquarium, that is hundreds and hundreds of gallons. Keep in mind that too small of an environment can stunt their growth and they can develop “behavior problems.†The Yellowfin Tang is generally not kept as a pet, due to their large size, however they are sometimes available online. Like other large Acanthurus, they are very active and constant feeders that can be a challenge to feed. The quantity of food that a fish just over 2 foot would require, can deteriorate water quality and since they are also susceptible to bacterial infections that result from organic buildup, they will need vigorous filtration, protein skimming, and regular small water changes.

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.

Yellowfin Tangs 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. 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 spp.) or cleaner shrimp can help them by providing this cleaning service in the home aquarium. Consequently, they 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.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – Due to large tank size

Foods and Feeding

The Yellowfin Tang is an omnivore. In the wild they feed on diatoms and the thin layer of detritus on the sand, phytoplankton, hydroids, hard corals, snails, and worms. In the aquarium they will eat algae, small crustacea, flakes, tablets, and a variety of other foods. Provide prepared frozen marine formulas including those containing marine algae or spirulina, frozen brine and mysid shrimp, flake foods, and tablets. Japanese Nori or other seaweed can also be offered. 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 at least three times a day.

Providing a vitamin supplement (including vitamin C) can help provide for the nutritional needs of surgeonfish, 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 for their surgeonfish, such as previously boiled or frozen zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and leaf lettuce.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet – To encourage feeding when new to a captive environment.
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet – They eat more meaty foods and detritus than veggies
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Feed 3 times a day or more

Aquarium Care

Yellowfin Tangs arevery active and constantly moving, it will spend a good deal of its time in the open water.

Reef tanks:
-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 10% bi-weekly to 20% monthly, depending on bioload.

Fish only tanks:*
-Large Tanks 100 gallons and over, once water is aged and stable can be changed 20% to 30% every 6 weeks depending on bioload.

For more information on maintaining a saltwater aquarium see:Saltwater Aquarium Basics: Maintenance. A reef tank will require specialized filtration and lighting equipment. Regular water changes done bi-weekly will help replace the trace elements that the fish and corals use up.

*Note: If this is the ONLY fish in the tank, with no corals or other fish you can get away 20% monthly.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

The Yellowfin Tangs is a very large, quick, agile swimmer and needs lots of open areas within their 360 gallon tank! Since they will reach 80% of their ultimate length in 4 to 5 years, it is best to put them in this minimum tank size as juveniles. By this time a female will be almost 22 inches! Provide a large tank with plenty of space for swimming, especially for adult specimens, along with lots of rocks/ corals to provide some cover and for sleeping. This decor will lend itself to algae growth which these fish will enjoy grazing on. In nature it is found in sunlit zones. It can be kept under normal lighting conditions in the aquarium, with enough to grow natural algae. They can also be kept under very bright light as long as some dimly lit spaces are provided. It will do best in an environment that provides consistency, so temperatures need to be kept stable and somewhere between 72 – 78° F (23 – 25° C) and pH between 8.1 to 8.4. All surgeonfish need an aquarium with plenty of aeration and a strong current that they will face into since they love to have water rushing over their gills! This will help to provide good oxygenation which they need due to their active swimming habits. They are found at all levels of the tank, and will spend time in the open water constantly moving and grazing. Tangs will sleep in crevices or caves by spreading their fins and “locking” themselves in at night.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 360 gal (1,363 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Plus Hiding Places
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Enough to provide algae growth
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 78.0° F (22.2 to 25.6&deg C) – These lower temperatures provide the much needed oxygen for these fish.
  • Breeding Temperature: – unknown
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Range ph: 8.1-8.4
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

They are semi-agressive but they do not tolerate their own kind. Do not keep more than one Yellowfin Tang per tank unless it is thousands of gallons.

Though they are aggressive towards others of their own species, they will tolerate other genus’ like the Zebrasoma, Paracanthurus, Naso, and Ctenochaetus. This should only be attempted in a tank that is over 500 gallons. 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 due to their territorial tendencies. Try and rearrange all the rock work to break up boundaries when adding a new tang. It is best to initially introduce several species together as juveniles since some adult tangs don’t do as well in captivity and may be picked on. Since most 4†juveniles do well, this helps with everyone being able to adjust. Although a large aquarium can help alleviate many problems, be aware of the social behaviors of any species you are considering to prevent compatibility problems. Yellowfin Tangs can also be kept in a fish only aquarium and their personality is not overly aggressive with most tank mates. They can also handle themselves just fine with more aggressive fish like triggers, large wrasses, and puffers. Timid fish like Assessors should be avoided since they will be intimidated and not come out to eat.

Caution needs to be taken with housing with stony corals, since their stomach contents fromfishbase.orgreveal this as one of many foods they eat. Similar to large angelfish, noxious soft corals would be a good choice. Glue them down so they are not toppled over by this fast swimming behemoth. Feeding them well may keep them from picking at stony corals, but there is no guarantee.

Various inverts are on the menu, again, according to their stomach contents and this includes mollusks (snails), worms, and small shrimp. That being said, avoid this group of inverts.

  • Venomous: Yes
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: No
    • Peaceful fish (gobies, dartfish, assessors, fairy wrasses): Monitor – Avoid timid species of fish such as the Assessor.
    • Semi-Aggressive (anthias, clownfish, dwarf angels): Safe
    • Safe
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (tangs, large angels, large wrasses): Safe – Other tangs should be a different genus and in a tank that is 500 gallons or more.
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (lionfish, groupers, soapfish): Safe – As long as they are larger
    • Threat
    • Anemones: Safe
    • Mushroom Anemones – Corallimorphs: Safe
    • LPS corals: Monitor – May pick at or eat LPS.
    • SPS corals: Monitor – May pick at or eat SPS
    • Gorgonians, Sea Fans: Safe
    • Leather Corals: Safe – Noxious varieties are best
    • Soft Corals (xenias, tree corals): Safe – Noxious varieties are best
    • Star Polyps, Organ Pipe Coral: Monitor
    • Zoanthids – Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Monitor – Small shrimp may be eaten and smaller snails are also on the menu.
    • Starfish: Safe
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Monitor – Since they eat worms, monitor any “wormy” inverts.
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Monitor
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

Unlike other genus of tangs, the Acanthurus female is larger than the male.

Breeding / Reproduction

They are open water spawners and form pairs. These pairs seem to stay together even within groups. The male may exhibit color changes during spawning to attract female and to warn rival males. If they are in a large school, a pair will break away and rise upward toward the surface and release their gametes. These little floating fertilized eggs are spherical and have a single oil globule to aid in their buoyancy and dispersal. Each egg measures around 0.17 mm in diameter. Once they hatch, the larvae look like little kites with a long snout with a small mouth, and they stay in this state for 42 to 68 days. During this time, they fall prey to fish and other marine animals. Once they reach around 1 inch, give or take (23 to 33 mm), the larvae are then changed into the juvenile stage. Once they are ready to join the reef, the larvae settle out of the water column and develop into these 1†juveniles, seeking the protection and food sources of the reef and seagrass habitats.

These fish have spawned in captivity in public aquariums (or very very large tanks), however, there hasn’t been success raising the larvae into viable fish.

Probably will not be accomplished in captivity. See the description in theBreeding Marine Fishpage.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown – Not possible at this time.

Fish Diseases

Tangs produce less body slime than other saltwater fish and have been termed “dry skinned†fish by some. This makes them very susceptible to Cryptocaryon (saltwater ich) and other diseases. The most common ailments are bacterial diseases, Hole-in-the-Head Disease or Lateral Line Disease,and parasitic infections such as protozoas (including Cryptocaryon), worms, etc.

As for treatment, some tangs are sensitive to copper. To avoid Lateral Line Disease, avoid using activated carbon, as it has been scientifically linked to those diseases. The best routine is a quarantine tank and a stress free environment with good quality veggie foods, places to hide and a quiet area for the aquarium.

For more information seeFish diseases.


Sometimes available ( and runs around $130.00 USD,for a 5 to 6″ subadult.


Animal-World References: Marine and Reef

Growth and longevity in acanthurid fishes; an analysis of otolith increments
J. H. Choat*, L. M. Axe
Department of Marine Biology, Jarnes Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 481 1, Australia

Animal Diversity Web

AcanthuridaeSurgeonfishes, tangs, unicornfishes
By: R. Jamil Jonna

-ICHTHYOLOGY at the Florida Museum of Natural History
Education Biological Profiles: Reproduction
By Cathleen Bester

AQUARIUM FISH: Activated carbon affirmed as causative agent for HLLI disease
By Leonard Ho
Copyright © 2002-2013 by Pomacanthus Publications, LLC, all rights reserved.

Hexamita: Fish Hole in the Head Disease
By Neale Monks, Ph.D.
Copyright ©2013 I-5 Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved