The yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens, Bennett, 1828) is perhaps one of the most recognizable fish in the marine aquarium hobby. Its bright coloration and active behavior has made it a “must have” for many hobbyists. These fish are found in the Hawaiian Islands among the coral reefs and shallow rocky areas. In the home aquarium, they require a large swimming space and rockwork on which to graze algae, as this makes up a large part of their diet. Balanced nutrition and good water quality are key factors in keeping yellow tangs healthy. When raising these fish at our Sustainable Islands project, we condition them to eat our hatchery diet, spirulina brine, mysis, and nori twice daily. As tangs have large appetites, they eat often and produce copious amounts of waste, so good filtration and frequent water changes are necessary to maintain water quality. If these requirements are not met, tangs can easily fall victim to diseases such as lateral line, “black ich,” (the turbellarian Paravortex), and marine ich (Cryptocaryon). Ensuring proper care is the best way to prevent such diseases.
Physical Description: The yellow tang is a bright, bold, uniform yellow. They can become pale with a white horizontal streak at night or when startled or stressed. The defining characteristic of tangs is the white barb-like projection on their caudal peduncle. This “tang” or “scalpel” is used for defense.
Temperament: The yellow tang is a fairly docile fish that gets along with most tank mates. They will act aggressively towards any other tangs or fish with similar body shapes, so it is best to keep only one per system. Most other tank mates, however small or large, should be compatible.
Size: These fish generally grow to 7 or 8 inches in length, though larger specimens have been seen. Due to their larger size and active grazing behavior, they should be housed in a system no smaller than 75 gallons and having ample water flow and filtration.
Distribution: The yellow tang is found on the reefs surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. Although it is sometimes considered endemic there (and most of the animals collected for the aquarium trade originate in Hawaii), the yellow tang is also found westward in the Marshall Islands, the Northern Marianas Islands, and all the way to Southern Japan.