Best Saltwater Tangs For Reef Tanks | Surgeonfish Guide

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Surgeonfish (Tangs) are characterized by their high-profile and laterally compressed oval bodies. They have very sharp spines on the caudal peduncle which are used during territorial fights and in self-defense. The dorsal and anal fins can be very long and their eyes are set high on the head. In their natural habitat, these fish can grow up to 16” in size. Aquarium kept tangs usually grow to 8-10”

Although there are no major color changes between juveniles and adults in most surgeonfish, the Caribbean Blue Tang has a yellow juvenile form. Since the adult color occurs at no predetermined age or size, small fish can show adult coloration and larger specimens will retain their younger colors. When the change occurs the body is the first area to show the blue adult color, followed by the caudal fin. 

Visual differences between the sexes are normally rare. It’s possible to see some darkening of the male’s colors during breeding. Size is not an indication of the sex of the fish, sometimes the male is larger sometimes the female.

Surgeonfish and tangs should be fed several times per day. Especially if there is insufficient algae growth for them to nibble on. Algae is such an important element of their diet that you should not introduce them into an aquarium that is algae free. Young tangs can grow fairly quickly and will starve if denied proper nourishment. Although many species are herbivorous, others will eat small animals. Once they have become accustomed to feeding in your aquarium, they will welcome many of the flake, pellets, frozen and live Foods. 

 

Cheatomorpha is a green macroalgae commonly used in saltwater tanks to help control nutrient levels. If you put this in your aquarium with surgeonfish, it will quickly become lunch and disappear!

 

 

 

Surgeons and tangs live in Shoals around coral reefs of the world. In the aquarium, however, they tend to quarrel among themselves unless you provide a large enough tank with plenty of swimming and hiding space. Once a territory has been established, some tangs often resent new fish introduced into the aquarium. Depending on the type of fish being introduced, new fish may well get off with a warning. But similarly sized surgeonfish may not be so lucky. 

All saltwater tangs are somewhat prone to White Spot disease or ich, especially in less than pristine water conditions.

 

Here are my picks for the best surgeonfish for reef tanks.

 

 

Yellow Tang – Zebrasoma Flavescens

 

 

The Yellow tang is found in shallow reefs of the Pacific Ocean. It is the most commonly kept surgeonfish in the aquarium hobby. How many reef tanks do you know that doesn’t have a yellow tang in it! They are readily available and affordable for the most part. It is common for the Yellow Tang to spend the day grazing on live rocks. They are a busy fish that love to swim in open space. They do enjoy plenty of hiding places as well, as they are known to dart and hide if startled. If you plan to have multiple Yellow Tangs in the aquarium, your best chance for success is to introduce them all at the same time and provide a large tank for them. It’s not a good idea to keep 2 in the same tank. They can be very aggressive towards each other.

 

Family: Acanthuridae

Size: Max 8″ in the home aquarium.

Behavior: Can be highly territorial. Keep either 1 per tank or a group of 6 in a larger aquarium.

Diet and feeding: Herbivorous. Require small feedings per day. Rely heavily on algae and will graze live rocks. Once established in your aquarium, they will accept quality flake, pellets, live and frozen foods. It is common to feed algae sheets and marine seaweed which they will pick at throughout the day.

Tankmates: The Yellow tang can be aggressive towards other Yellow tangs and generally will fight for territory. Most other tangs and reef safe fish are compatible with them, like the clownfish.

Tank size: Minimum 55 gallons for smaller tangs and 100 gallons for adult size.

 

 

 

Marine Depot Aquarium Supplies

 

Naso Tang – Naso lituratus

 

 

 

 

The Naso tang is commonly referred to as the Orangespine Unicornfish or Lipstick tang. It is generally found in the Indo-Pacific. These fish have a remarkable makeup as their lips are red, orange, and yellow-edged. They have striking colors and markings, combining black, yellow, white, and blue. They are well defined and easy to recognize. Unlike other Unicornfish however, they do not develop a protruding horn. The Naso Tang is an active swimmer and prefers a moderate to high flow. They need plenty of open space in the tank and are known to jump if startled. So ensure your tank has a covered top or lid. They are a peaceful fish towards other tankmates with the exception of other surgeonfish. There is a chance they can bully other Naso Tangs.

Family: Acanthuridae

Size: Max 12″ in the home aquarium.

Behavior: Generally peaceful.

Diet and Feeding: Herbivorous. Similar to the Yellow tang relies heavily on algae and will graze live rocks. Once established in your aquarium, they will accept quality flake, pellets, live and frozen foods. It is common to feed algae sheets and marine seaweed which they will pick at throughout the day.

Tankmates: Most other tangs and reef safe fish are compatible with them, like the clownfish. Generally peaceful to most other saltwater fish but can be aggressive to other Naso tangs.

Tank size: Minimum 75 gallons for smaller Naso tangs and 180 gallons for adult size.

 

Some more great info on the Naso Tang:

 

Regal Tang – Paracanthurus hepatus

 

 

 

The Regal Tang is commonly called the Hippo tang. It is found in the Indo Pacific. The bright blue color combined with a yellow wedge in the caudal fin, make it easy to identify. Regal Tangs are a very tame fish and they can get along with almost any other type of marine life. The only issue will occur is if there is another Blue Tang in the tank.

It is not unheard of for these fish to fight one another over territory. So, if you are planning to place several Blue Tangs in one tank, it is critical that they have enough space. In other words, the bigger the tank you have, the more peaceful the fish will be.

If you do want to have several Blue Tangs, if possible, introduce all of them to the tank at the same time. This will help avoid any territorial fights in the tank, and they will not have anything to fight over.

Family: Acanthuridae

Size: Max 8″ in the home aquarium.

Behavior: Generally peaceful.

Diet and Feeding: Herbivorous. Similar to the Yellow tang relies heavily on algae and will graze live rocks. Once established in your aquarium, they will accept quality flake, pellets, live and frozen foods. It is common to feed algae sheets and marine seaweed which they will pick at throughout the day.

Tankmates: Most other tangs and reef safe fish are compatible with them, like the clownfish. Generally peaceful to most other saltwater fish but can be aggressive to other Regal Tangs.

Tank size: Minimum 55 gallons for smaller Regal tangs and 180 gallons for adult size.

 

Read our Blue Hippo Tang guide here.

 

Sailfin tang – Zebrasoma veliferum

 

Image credit D.Keats Flickr.com

 

The Sailfin originates from the Indo-Pacific, Red Sea. It is featured with a unique and large sail-like dorsal fin and matching anal fin. You will notice several vertical bands of yellow and brown stripes. It is very similar to the Dejardini sailfin tang, although it is more readily available and less expensive. Generally, small Sailfin tangs are not aggressive but tend to become semi-aggressive towards larger tangs as they mature. The sailfin tang likes to swim in open waters with lots of water movement. It is a very active fish and doesn’t hide as much as others. They are easy to care for once established in your aquarium.

 

Family: Acanthuridae

Size: Max 12″ in the home aquarium.

Behavior: Semi-aggressive – aggressive.

Diet and Feeding: Herbivorous. Similar to the other tangs on the list, the Sailfin tang relies heavily on algae and will graze live rocks. Once established in your aquarium, they will accept quality flake, pellets, live and frozen foods. It is common to feed algae sheets and marine seaweed which they will pick at throughout the day.

Tankmates: Most other reef safe fish are compatible with them, like the clownfish. It can fight to establish territory with other tangs. It can be aggressive towards other Sailfin tangs.

Tank size: Minimum 55 gallons for smaller Sailfin tangs and 180 gallons for adult size.

 

 

There are many other types of Surgeonfish that are safe for reef tanks. The ones I mentioned in this article are the most commonly seen in home aquariums. There is nothing like a large reef tank with several different types of saltwater Tangs. As mentioned, most Tangs are reef safe and you shouldn’t have any problems with them bothering your corals. Just do your homework to decide if the surgeonfish will work for you.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

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