Yellow Tang Care and Info

Yellow Tang fish are easily recognized by their vibrant yellow color and unique oval shape with a long snout for grazing on algae. When their fins are fully open, they are a stunning disk of bright sunshine.

They have spiny dorsal fins and a sharp, white spine, or scalpel, on each side of their tail used for defense or attack. Their bold color and high activity level make them popular additions to saltwater aquariums.  

Some History

The Yellow Tang, or Zebrasoma flavescens, is also known as Lemon Tang, Yellow Hawaiian Tang, and Yellow Surgeonfish.  They originate from the Central Pacific Ocean from Hawai’i to Japan around coral reefs. Juveniles are solitary and hide in the coral and feed on the algae. An adult may be solitary or live in small, loose schools.

They have strong population densities and are not a threatened species. Most of the Yellow Tang sold for the pet trade are wild-caught juveniles found around the Big Island of Hawai’i. They are hardy fish, readily available, and suitable for beginning fishkeepers.

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Yellow Tang Tank Setup

For a healthy tank, be sure you have:

  • Clean natural seawater or purified water to make an appropriate saltwater solution
  • biological filtration
  • protein skimmer
  • tank thermometer
  • lighting
  • a circulating pump
  • siphon to clean substrate

These items will help keep the environment clean and aerated, which are requirements for healthy fish. Yellow Tangs prefer a strong current and plenty of aeration.

Tank Size

yellow tang tank size

Adults can grow up to 8 inches. Yellow Tang fish are active swimmers and require plenty of space to thrive. For an adult fish over 5 inches, you will need at least a 100-gallon tank that is 6 feet long. You will need plenty of open space at the top for active swimming, and rock or coral on the lower half to provide hiding places.

If you have a juvenile that is less than 4 inches, it is possible to keep it in a 75-gallon tank temporarily, but it will need to move to a larger tank as it grows.

Water Parameters

Test water parameters weekly and keep your tank water in these ranges:

  • Ammonia – aim for 0 ppm
  • Hardness –  5-19 dGH
  • Nitrates – aim for 0 ppm
  • Nitrites – aim for 0 ppm
  • pH – preferably 8.1-8.4
  • Specific gravity – 1.012-1.026
  • Temperature: 75-82⁰F

Also track levels of alkalinity, calcium, iodine, and phosphate and look for trending changes.  It’s a good habit to keep a journal or log to track your water parameters.  The sooner that you notice a trend that is going out of range, the sooner you can correct for it.  

Tank Maintenance

Observe the tank daily for:

  • signs of disease
  • color of inhabitants
  • activity of inhabitants
  • appetite of inhabitants
  • amount of debris in the substrate
  • algae growth

Test water quality weekly to help determine how often you will need to clean.  Some filter system types, like Berlin live rock, will require less frequent cleaning while others, like canister filters, will require more.  Water changes will depend on tank type (fish only or reef) and the stability of the water.  In general, you should change 10-20% of the water bi-weekly.

Some common diseases to be aware of are saltwater ich (Cryptocaryon), usually caused by stress, and Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), often caused by stress or poor water quality.  Daily observations will allow you to notice any signs of stress or disease early so you can treat the problem before it becomes an issue for the whole tank.


Yellow Tangs are herbivores and feed primarily on algae, but they will also consume other vegetables like lettuces, nori, and zucchini.  They can get quality nutrition from a good flake or pellet food.  Very occasionally they may nibble meat products, but this should not be their primary diet.

Yellow Tang Tank Mates

Yellow Tang fish are classified as semi-aggressive.  They are generally peaceful fish that will get along well with other peaceful fish.  They can become aggressive toward other Yellow Tangs if they were introduced to the tank and separate times, indicating territorial aggression.  They can also show aggression toward other Yellow Tangs or other fish if the tank size is too small.  

Occasionally they will be aggressive toward other species of tang fish.  Their sharp, white spines can be used to attack other fish if they feel threatened or stressed.  They should not be housed with aggressive fish, such as puffers, which can cause stress.  They have been known to cause damage to coral and invertebrates while grazing aggressively.

Yellow Tang Lifespan

yellow tang size

In the wild, Yellow Tangs can live 30 years or more if they reach adulthood.  Juveniles frequently fall prey to larger fish before they reach breeding age.  In an aquarium, they usually live 5 to 10 years, depending on the quality of the tank.


In the wild, Yellow Tangs will spawn in pairs or groups during a full moon and in winter and spring. In warmer water, they might spawn throughout the year.  

The eggs float on the surface and larvae hatch in only 24 hours. They develop slowly and won’t be able to breed for 1 or 2 years.  It is very unlikely they will breed in a home aquarium or that the larvae will survive.

It was only as recent as 2015 when scientists were able to successfully breed captive Yellow Tangs.  Captive-bred Yellow Tangs will likely become more available in the future because of this.

Wrapping Up

The stunning, vibrant lemon color of the Yellow Tang will add a pleasant pop of color to your saltwater tank. Their high activity level brings plenty of interest and their hardiness only adds to their attraction.  

Be sure to provide plenty of space for these active swimmers to keep them happy. Provide a quality herbivore feed to keep them healthy and vibrant. Finally, house them with other peaceful fish and monitor for any indications of aggression. In a healthy tank with happy fish, these are sure to become your favorite.

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