Yellow Tang - Zebrasoma flavescens
Updated August 3, 2019
Author: Mike - FishLore Admin
The Yellow Tang is one of the most popular of all saltwater fish species. This tang comes from the Hawaiian islands and is one of the better marine surgeonfishes for a beginner with a fully cycled aquarium. It is commonly carried at most saltwater pet shops and is relatively inexpensive. They have a strikingly yellow color with white blade like spines at the base of their tail fin.
They can be fairly hardy in a saltwater aquarium that has completely cycled. If you plan on keeping them, they spend much of their time grazing for algae so have plenty of live rock for them to graze on. They will also feed on dried algae or seaweed (nori) attached to a lettuce clip. This tang (and tangs in general) requires highly oxygenated water so make sure you have plenty of water surface agitation.
Use caution when netting a yellow tangs because of the blades at the base of their tail fin. The blades can easily get hooked into the net. If this happens, gently move the net back and forth in the aquarium until the tang is released.
Like many marine species, you will have better results if you keep only one yellow tang in your aquarium because they will become territorial otherwise. They use the blade like appendages at the base of their tales to slap at each other.
Tangs are especially susceptible to marine ich, which means that it's a good idea to house any new yello tangs in a quarantine tank for a couple of weeks before introducing them into your main aquarium.
As of 2012 there is pending legislation that may make the export of Zebrasoma flavescens out of Hawaii illegal. If this legislation becomes law it will impact the number available to stores and drive the price up significantly.
If you are looking to buy one, be prepared to spend anywhere from $30 to $75 with the price mostly depending on the size of the fish.
Yellow Tang Fish Care Details
Scientific Name : Zebrasoma flavescens
Common Names : Yellow Sailfin Tang, Lemon Surgeonfish, Yellow Surgeonfish
Care Level : Easy to Moderate, the yellow tang is good for saltwater beginners with a fully cycled aquarium.
Life span : 40 years, possibly longer
Size : 7 - 8 inches (20 cm)
pH : 8 - 8.4
Temperature : 75°F - 80°F (24°C - 27°C)
Specific Gravity : 1.020 - 1.024
Origin / Habitat : South Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, Marshall and Wake Islands. It has also been seen off the coast of Florida and even in the Mediterranean Sea which they are believed to have been aquarium released fish.
Temperament / Behavior : It's best to keep only one yellow tang in your aquarium because they can become territorial with other tangs. They will usually play nicely with others (except tangs) in a community tank setup. You may be able to keep multiples if you introduce them at the same time and if roughly the same size. Feed them often to help keep them less territorial.
Breeding : As of December 2015 yellow tangs are being bred at the Oceanic Institute in Hawaii. See the article in the January/February 2016 edition of Coral Magazine for details on how they got this fish to breed and raise the larvae through grow out. This could be huge for the marine hobby!
Aquarium Size : 55 gallon minimum but will do much better in larger tanks - think 90 gallons plus to allow for lots of swimming room.
Tank Mates : Avoid keeping them in an aquarium with other Tangs, especially con-specifics (e.g. other yellow tangs) or other Zebrasomas. May do ok with other tangs if introduced at the same time in large tanks and provided with lots of swimming room and live rock so they can have their own territories.
Reef Tank Compatible? : This tang will do well in a marine reef tank setup with caution. They can help perform a small role in grazing some of the algae that may grow in a reef tank. However, they may nip at some species of LPS coral.
Food : Herbivore, have plenty of live rock and/or be prepared to give them dried seaweed or dried algae using a lettuce clip. I like to give mine Romaine lettuce every once in a while but the majority of their diet in my tank is dried nori placed with a rubber band on a small piece of live rock. Remove any uneaten nori after a day so it doesn't foul the tank water. They will also accept flake, pellet foods and live foods.
Tank Region : All over
Gender : Difficult to determine, but the female may be larger than males of the same age.
Forum : Yellow Tang Forum
Photo Credit : Photos copyright JJPhoto.dk
Fenner, R. M. (2001). The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists. (3rd Printing). T.F.H. Publications.
Michael, S. W. (2001). Marine Fishes, 500+ Essential to Know Aquarium Species. T.F.H. Publications.
Paletta, Michael (2001). The New Marine Aquarium, Step-by-step Setup and Stocking Guide. T.F.H. Publications.
Callan, Chatham K. (2015). Striking Gold, Coral Magazine Jan/Feb 2016 Edition.
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Yellow Tang Comments and Tips
I just got one today and I noticed that she was very shy and loved caulerpa.
I was having difficulty keeping this fish alive for more than a day or two. I noticed that they would become a brownish color in the stomach region. My water conditions are excellent (live rock), always acclimated them slowly and my tanks are all fully cycled. After reading this profile it got me thinking about the amount of dissolved oxygen in my tank water. I only had one power head but I decided to add another power head and also an air stone as suggested. Guess what, the latest yellow tang has not shown the brownish color and they have stayed alive for well over 6 months now.
I got a yellow tang about a week ago and its doing fine. I love the way that he looks at me when I put my face near the glass. It's like he already knows who I am and that I bring him food.
I've had my yellow tang for about 3 years now and it has contracted ICH (cryptocaryon) two or three times over the years from newly introduced fish. I do not use a quarantine tank and never use ich medicine or any other medicines in my tanks, but I do keep my water in pristine condition with weekly partial water changes and heavy protein skimming. This yellow tang has made it through these bouts of disease just fine with no medication, just good water conditions and a high quality diet of primarily dried seaweeds that I give it with a suction clip. I don't recommend that others do what I do but just wanted to show that fish can bounce back with good water and a good diet!
More Tang & Surgeonfish Profiles
A large and aggressive tang that needs a very large tank. It can be difficult to get them eating popular foods. Primary diet of seaweed fed daily.
This is pretty cool looking tang and often found schooling in the wild. They can be quite hardy too. They grow to around 8 inches (20 cm) as adults. Hard to find in local shops though.
Mimic Eibli Tang
This tang is not quite as common as some other species and loses it's markings as it matures.