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How to Take Care of a Yellow Tang: Tank Size, Diet and More

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PirateFX enjoys writing guides to caring for various types of pet fish, from popular species to unique and challenging species.

An adult yellow tang.

An adult yellow tang.

When it comes to popularity, the marine hobby has roughly five fish that are at the top of the list. They are as follows:

  1. Percula clownfish (both ocellaris and percula)
  2. Yellow tang
  3. Blue tang
  4. Flame angelfish
  5. Royal gramma

The yellow tang shares the title of "most popular surgeonfish" with the blue tang. Its image sees heavy use in advertisements within the marine trade. If I had to rank the five fish in order of popularity, I'd rank the yellow tang second, behind the percula clown.

A Tang Shoal off the Coast of Kona, Hawaii

Facts About the Yellow Tang

  • Scientific Name: Zebrasoma flavescens
  • Origin: Hawaii, Marshall Islands, Pacific Ocean
  • Difficulty of Care: Medium
  • Minimum Size Tank: 100 gallons
  • Temperature: 72–82°F
  • Reef Safe: Yes
  • Maximum Size: 8 inches
  • Diet: Herbivore

This tang possesses only a single color, but that color is enough to make it one of the most stunning tangs in the market today. It is fully covered from head to tail with a pastel-like bright yellow. It has no other markings other than a small white blade on its tail which is only used during fighting.

This fish is endemic to Hawaii and its surrounding islands, where they form huge shoals. They are a common fish and are usually witnessed by divers in the area with their schooling behavior.

While they can be hardy once past acclimation, they, like most surgeonfish, are susceptible to marine ich and lateral line erosion. This species is heavily collected for the fish trade. Since they are so common, they do not cost as much as some other tangs in the market like the sohal or the Achilles.

Juveniles usually go for as little as $30, while adults range between $60 to $80 per specimen.

Yellow and blue tang: two of the most popular fish in the hobby.

Yellow and blue tang: two of the most popular fish in the hobby.


For a large fish, the yellow tang is quite peaceful with other species, making them ideal candidates for a wide range of tank setups. As usual, any hostility this fish may have is reserved for other members of the surgeonfish clan, especially when dealing with others of its own kind. However, a large enough aquarium can house multiple yellow tangs as long as there is enough breathing space for them all.

Their shoaling behavior in the wild can be witnessed in captivity as well. They like to play "follow the leader" where they all follow a designated fish to either ends of the tank.

If you're planning on keeping more than one, always make sure you introduce them at the same time. Putting one in with a more established member will always bring about aggression between the two.

A Yellow Tang in a Tank That Is Way Too Small (24 Gallons)

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Tank Size

Yellow tangs reach lengths of up to 8 inches, so they are a pretty big fish. They need a 100-gallon tank if you plan on keeping them until adulthood, but something like a 150-gallon tank or larger would be better.

As they are heavily collected, there will be times when tiny specimens as small as 2 inches are available. Resist the temptation to buy these juveniles if you have a tank smaller than the minimum requirement stated above. They will outgrow something like a 50-gallon with ease.

These fish aren't shy by any means, in fact, they are an "open" swimming species that require a lot of swimming space. Every night they will find a spot to bed down in, so make sure there is enough live rock to provide such shelters.


This is a schooling fish, and in the wild they form large shoals where they cruise the reef grazing on algae along the way. This is great news for those with corals, as they are completely reef safe. Despite the fact that they're primarily herbivores in the wild, they are open to just about anything offered once acclimated. Krill, mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, pellets—they take them all.

Algae-Based Foods: Nori and Mixes

Seeing as how algae make up a large part of their diets in the wild, they should be getting large amounts of algae-based foods in our tanks as well. Nori is a good form of algae to feed tangs.

The price will vary depending on the brand you choose. Some people may find Julian Sprung's Sea Veggies cost a little too much, even though it is good quality stuff. They come in flake form, too, making feedings very convenient.

Thankfully, there are many other brands that produce nori primarily for human consumption. Some are cheap, though the really high-quality sheets can be very expensive. You will need a clip of some sort to secure the nori sheet. You can buy a commercial type or fashion one up yourself. Some people fold the sheets before clipping while others just clip them as is. Use the suction cup to attach it to your aquarium and you're done. You can enjoy the show.

Formula Two is a good-quality algae-based mix for herbivores. It has an extra amount of algae in it along with a good mix of seafood, trace minerals, vitamins and more. It is available as a flake food, pellet or frozen cube.

Flake Food

The best flake food for the yellow tang would be Sea Veggie mixed flakes followed by Formula Two flakes. If you're looking for a great all-around mix with balanced ingredients, then you can't go wrong with New Life Spectrum pellets.

No Lettuce!

Never feed your tangs lettuce. I see this happening mainly in pet stores, where they are probably trying to save a buck or two. Lettuce doesn't have a place in this hobby since nutritionally it is rubbish.

Courtship in Captivity


The yellow tang is a pelagic spawner. The male and the female will release sperm and eggs into the water column after a courting ritual, much like angelfish. They have not been bred in captivity to date, and it's looking like a very difficult endeavor, even for large-scale breeding facilities.

© 2009 PirateFX


Bradford RichardNiemiec on December 24, 2018:

Tangs what could go with yellow tangs in a 55gallon tangs with5 blue yellow tail damsfish with live corals and live rock with live sand with a coral banned shrimp with two engineer golby s.and a star fish with some blue leg crabs and snails.

Keeton Schaff on July 08, 2016:

I don't have my tank yet but would 1 yellow tang, 2 clownfish, 9 Firefish, 2 pajama Cardinal fish, and 1 lawnmower Blenney be too much for a 48 gallon reef tank? If so what fish could I remove to make it work out.

Izzac on May 22, 2016:

I have a yellow Tang in a 30 Gallon Reef tank with a 6 line Wrasse and Clown fish. The Tang acclimated well and is eating algae and the shrimp mix I feed the others but supplement with see weed and other veggie mixes. The Tang is the biggest in the tank and mellowed out the semi aggressive fish in the tank mainly the Clown fish! The yellow Tang is a beautiful fish but needs great filtration and regular water changes. As I plan to upgrade to a much larger tank ( 150) do not buy one unless you can or are planning to move it to a larger tank as it grows. While beautiful they do get very large so don't buy one if your not willing to upgrade to a larger tank because it's death indeed for the fish. In my experience if you want to get into this hobby be ready to deal with the expense and time it takes. If not get a fresh water tank and a gold fish.

PirateFX (author) on May 01, 2012:

@Guess - While you may be right, we all went through this process. Its the knowledge that bridges the gap between the common 10 gallon aquarium with 20 goldfish and the 100 gallon reef that has at most 5 fishes. I feel its all about spreading the right message in the right manner.

Guess on April 27, 2012:

Most of the people doing posts here have a tremendous amount of learning to do. It is hard to beleive that so many will post such crazy ideas when it is olbious they have access to the internet for research. Many of you should start doing some research before you start buying fish like the Yellow Tang. Not buying then posting that is what you have, it makes you look bad. It makes people that you could get good advice from avoid you. My advise is to do a lot of reading, then ask questions, then maybe go forward from there.

Jadon on March 18, 2012:

Jadon here, I got my yellow tang today and he keeps acting like somethings following him or trying to get something off of him, what's wrong, and what should I do?

Jadon on March 16, 2012:

I have a 29 gallon freshwater tank, it is a long 29 gal., and have 4 angelfish, and 1 guppy in it, they live in my tank, I feed regularly, and do water changes when I have time (on weekends), the type of angels are 1gold pearl scale, 1 marble, 1 leopard, 1 ghost, they are amazing! 

    Now on to my saltwater 29 gallon fish tank, it is a 29 gallon regular tank,  I have 4 blue legged hermet crabs and 6 live/base rock, I also put a yellow tang on hold at my local fish store, it is about a half dollar size (as in the coin), i am planing on getting some other fish, but not sure what, any ideas? I might get 2 percula  clowns and something else. Any ideas? Thanks!!!

PirateFX (author) on January 11, 2012:

Clueless - Sorry to hear about that. Peeling? Like how? Are there pieces of loose and tattered skin around it? It is being attacked by anything?

clueless on January 10, 2012:

please help my yellow tang has been wonderful and healthy hes in a 75 gallon tank with a niger trigger a percula clown and 2 green chromis his face looks almost attacked or peeling its sudden and the only thing that's has changed is we added some new zoos and a bubblegum mushroom any ideas? waters perfect any help welcomed thanks

LRuss on November 23, 2011:

My Yellow Tany began eating my Feather not like a Tany! What do you all think the problem is???

Phil on September 28, 2011:

@ Mike

I thought this was a joke post. Seriously. I thought someone was actually mocking people who overstock fish tanks. Cheeto's??

I'm still pretty new to the hobby but at least i did 1 google search online before stuffing tons of fish into a tiny tank. 15 gallons for a trigger? 4 Tangs? Puffers? Some of these fish will grow to be almost a foot! If you want these fish you should be looking at a 100+ gallon tank. the Mandarin will need a large live food supply which = tons of live rock.

Your LFS should be ashamed for letting you do this.

go to live aquaria and read some fish profiles, there are lots of pretty nano fish that would be happy in your 15 gallon

Carlo on September 14, 2011:

If you walk into a fish store you will see that most fish are housed in 10 to 20 gallons some fish are keep there for months and survive but the is usually one or to fish per tank, the reason I say this is usually take longer growing time in smaller tank. Also the other point is think how much live rock you place in a 210 gallon tank how much room do you think you got?

smarter than u on June 14, 2011:

Really! you want to add a 4th tang to your 15gal tank

and you thing 3 gal per fish is fine.

you truly have no buisness keeping marine fish.

Educate your self please !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Conner on May 23, 2011:


PirateFX (author) on April 18, 2011:

@Mike - Lionfish are venemous, its their spines actually. While not fatal, i hear they hurt like hell. As for the space requirements of the tang, i have to disagree with you. A 15g is tiny, that's like 2x1x1 or something right? I'd like to invite you to go here :- and get some opinions on the topic. There are far better qualified people there that can answer all your questions. Thanks for dropping by Mike.

Mike on April 17, 2011:

I have three tangs a yellow, purple, and something called a kole tang. I have had them for about three weeks and they are doing great, i feed them zuchini mostly, but my roomate fed them cheetos and they seem to like that. They are really cool.

I don't think that this article is right though. I have my three tangs in a 15 gallon tank and they fit just fine. They do fight some, but other than that they are pretty cool. I think i might get a blue one too, but the guy at my local fish store said that since i only have a 15 gallon tank that i would need to get a cannister filter if I wanted to put another tang in my tank.

I looked at some other fish and think i might get a puffer fish, a triger fish or a mandarin fish instead so i don't have to get a filter. I might just get a fourth tang however as my hang on the back filter has two pads so i bet it is good enough.

Oh i was wondering is it true that lionfish are venomous? Cause they are really cool. I wonder if i got the little mandarin if i could put a lionfish in the tank? That's almost 3 gallons of water per fish so they have plenty of room to swim around.

PirateFX (author) on October 08, 2010:

Thanks for visiting Granny;s House :)

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on October 08, 2010:

Fantastic hub and pics. Thanks for sharing

shreya on September 15, 2010:

me to i know

lalalallala on July 11, 2010:

i hate to see that tang in the 24 gallon its like keeping a puppy in a tiny cage :((((((

Peter (aquaman) on May 16, 2010:

Thanks for the information on the yellow tang. Apart from him being one of my favourite marine fish, I alway's think that a yellow fish in either Marine or freshwater aquarium add that little something extra to the aquarium.

I first introduced a regal tang (blue) as a juvenile into the aquarium. He spent most of his time hiding in caves, shadows and tunnels. However when I introduced a yellow tang into the aquarium they became firm friends. The regal tang (blue) became much bolder and was noticeably out in the open most of the day.

After a few months the yellow tang died. I half expected this as he had what I call "The mark of death" This is a hollowing or narrowing of the upper back area just behind the head. It has been my experience with not only marines but also fresh water tropical's. If they have this hollowing of the back they will die much sooner than later.

Anyway once again the blue or regal tang started to become more elusive hiding most of the day in the tunnels and caves in the aquarium. Some children came round with friends, They asked me why does Dorrie (The regal tang) keep hiding in the caves, then dashing out into another cave. I did not want to tell them she was missing her deceased friend. So I told them she had lost her mobile (cell) phone and she was looking for it. That brought a smile to their faces.

So I took a trip to the aquarium shop to try and purchase another Yellow Tang. As the couple of yellow tangs had slightly hollow backs I looked around for another yellow fish. I bought a very healthy looking Foxface Lo, also known as the Foxface Rabbitfish.

As soon as I introduced him to the aquarium the blue tang and he spent several day's sparring up to one another showing slight signs of aggression. However after a week they settled down and follow one another around the tank like the best of buddies.

If I should need to buy another yellow tang at some stage the information you provided will hopefully be of great help.

With regards to a yellow fish in a freshwater tropical aquarium. I found the Electric yellow Labidochromis, even though a rift lake cichlids his striking colours and docile temperament, mean that a single one (NO More than one) in a freshwater community (Amazon) aquarium really makes the colours of the other fish, plants and background stand out.

I kept one for years. He got on with the other tank inhabitants and plants fine. The lower PH than what he was used to never seemed detrimental to him.


Peter (aquaman)

shawn on January 22, 2010:

my yelllow tang i bought always dies


PirateFX (author) on December 27, 2009:

Totally agree compu-smart, they are truly beautiful fish. Thanks for dropping by :)

Tony Sky from London UK on December 27, 2009:

Beautiful fish. I had so many that are no loner around and something like this article could have helped things! Knowledge is power...

pallavi on October 24, 2009:

i was very sad when my angel fish died

yomaira on October 22, 2009:

yomiara romero said this okay watch nice stuff helped me a lot on my report

mirah on October 22, 2009:

coool fish @#$%^&*()++_)(*&^%$##@!

candy on October 22, 2009:

i have a yellow tank @#%*(__****

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