How to Properly Care for Yellow Tang

Yellow tangs are one of the most popular fish in the saltwater aquarium hobby.
They are brightly colored, attractive, and very active fish. The friendly, and also sometimes shy yellow tang is full of life and personality. It’s easy to see why they are so popular.

yellow tang fish in aquarium

Yellow tangs aren’t best suited for every aquarium, though. They are active swimmers and require large, open spaces to be at their best in an aquarium.

Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the tropical Hawaiian yellow tang.

At a Glance

  • Common Names: Yellow tang, Yellow Hawaiian tang, and Yellow Surgeonfish
  • Scientific Name: Zebrasoma Flavescens
  • Maximum Size: 8”
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Colors: Yellow
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Reef Safe: Yes
  • Lifespan: 5-20 years, depending on the quality of care

Natural Habitat

Yellow tangs are found in the tropical waters of Hawaii, the Great Barrier Reef, Indonesia, and the Pacific Ocean. In the wild, you will spot the yellow tang swimming around the reefs. They swim and graze rocks for algae all day long. They play a big part in controlling algae, especially in aquariums.


Yellow tangs have great personalities and are very active swimmers throughout the day. They are sweet fish that are also a bit timid. It takes time for them to feel comfortable, and start displaying their personalities. They get along well with most fish and are not considered to be aggressive towards other species. They are, however, aggressive towards their own species.

They have a unique oval-shaped body with a large, pronounced dorsal fin. They use their dorsal fin to maneuver through rocks by moving it up and down. They are very fun to watch, as they glide through the tank effortlessly. Almost acting as a guide, showing you around their sanctuary. Overall, they are peaceful fish that aren’t known to pick on other fish, and they keep to themselves.

Even though they are peaceful fish, they do have a defense mechanism. They have a sharp, white razor-like spear that they use for defense and to establish territory, when needed.

Tank Setup & Water Preferences

100 gallons is the minimum tank size you should keep a yellow tang in. The bigger the better for these fish, though. They are very active swimmers that need open space to swim freely throughout the day. However, they do like to have some coverage at nighttime, to hide and sleep comfortably.

Yellow tangs are pretty hardy fish. They do well in tanks that are 72-78 F, have a pH of 8.1-8.4, and a specific gravity of 1.020-1.026. They prefer a good amount of flow and are reef safe. They also do well in fish-only aquariums.

Tank Mates & Compatibility

Yellow tangs get along well with other fish species, making them a good addition to most tanks. It is not recommended to have two of the same tang species in your tank. Though, if you wish to have more than one, you will need to have 3 or more to reduce aggression.

They are schooling fish, and tend to follow each other around in groups of 3 or more. However, you will need to keep a close watch to make sure everyone is getting along. If a fish is being bullied, separate them immediately. It’s best to put all of the tangs in the tank at once to avoid territorial aggression.

Like I mentioned before, tangs do well with just about any other fish species you would keep in a tank. Corals and invertebrates make great tank mates also, and there will likely be no issues there. Just avoid large aggressive fish such as the lionfish, groupers, and sharks.

Food & Diet

Yellow tangs are omnivores, and most of their food comes from grazing algae on the rocks. They tend to spend most of their waking hours cleaning rocks of algae.

Yellow tangs are a great natural algae control, and can act as part of a “clean up crew”. If you don’t have enough algae in your tank to keep your tang happy, clip some seaweed in the tank. Tangs will also eat pellets; it just depends on the preference of that fish. However, they need algae in their diet for maximum longevity in the aquarium. If they are fed only pellets, they will lack important nutrients in their diet. Make sure they get algae or seaweed so they don’t lack nutrition.

Breeding & Sexing

Yellow tangs don’t breed in home aquariums, yet. The Oceanic Institute at Hawaii Pacific University has made a significant breakthrough, though. They have successfully bred and raised the first aqua-cultured yellow tangs. Most of these fish, at first, were displayed in aquariums and zoos across the US. Hobbyists can now buy aqua-cultured yellow tangs from Biota via Petco or

Captive-bred tangs are much more appealing to hobbyists for a few reasons. First, they are less likely to introduce disease and infections to their aquarium. Second, they are usually much smaller than wild-caught. Here’s a little secret… you can keep small tangs in smaller aquariums, about 50-80 gallons. It will take a few years for them to outgrow the tank. Of course, you should have a future plan to upgrade your aquarium or rehome the tang when it has reached full size. Please do not take this approach if you can not plan for that, as the health of the fish is the first priority.

Male and female yellow tangs look very similar; the female is usually slightly larger. You may not be able to tell the difference very easily in your aquarium.


As for any fish, yellow tangs are susceptible to many different diseases. When choosing your yellow tang, there are some things you should look out for. You want a plump, healthy, and well-nourished fish. The fins should be in good shape, and their breathing should be steady while actively swimming. Also, look for visible parasitic diseases such as ich and marine velvet.

It is always a good idea to quarantine any fish before adding them into your main display tank. This helps reduce the risk of infecting other healthy inhabitants.

Closing Thoughts

Yellow tangs are a peaceful, beautiful species of marine fish that make a great addition to established tanks. They are easy to care for and fun to keep. Treat them well, meet their needs for swimming space, and they will win over your heart. What’s your favorite thing about the yellow tang?