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Tang (Surgeonfish) Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Includes tang and surgeonfish species such as:



Scientific name: Acanthurus leucosternon, Paracanthurus hepatus, Acanthurus lineatus, Acanthurus japonicus, Acanthurus triostegus, Zebrasoma veliferum, Zebrasoma scopas, Naso lituratus, Acanthurus chronixis, Acanthurus pyroferus, Zebrasoma xanthurum, Acanthurus sohal, Ctenochaetus binotatus, Naso vlamingii, Zebrasoma flavescens, Axanthurus achilles

Tangs are often called surgeonfish because of the scalpel-like spine at the base of their tail. The spine is used for self-defense and territorial battles. Tangs are often found in large schools swimming over and scouring reefs for algae.


Typical appearance and behavior 

  • In an aquarium, tangs tend to be solitary and territorial
  • They may be aggressive toward new aquarium inhabitants, so it is best to add a tang as one of the last fish to the aquarium 
  • Tangs will defend themselves by swinging their tail toward their target
  • Tend to inhabit all levels of the aquarium. 
  • Tangs can use their spines to wedge themselves into a crevice



Care Difficulty Beginner to advanced, depending on species
Average Life Span Up to 20 years with proper care, depending on species
Average Adult Size 6-24+ inches long, depending on species
Diet Herbivore and omnivore, depending on species
Minimum Habitat Size 50+ gallons, depending on species
Water Temperature 74-80°F
Specific gravity 1.020-1.025



Habitat size

Keep tangs in an appropriate size aquarium. Due to their territorial behavior, a minimum of 50 gallons or larger, depending on the adult size of the species, is recommended.

Building your habitat

  • Water health - Provide proper filtration to ensure optimal water quality to help maintain health. Moderate to strong water circulation, based on species, should be provided to mimic water currents found in the tang’s natural habitat. Stable water quality (pH, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite) and water temperature are critical to the health of aquatic life. If you are unsure of your water quality, bring a sample to Petco for free testing. The addition of a protein skimmer can aid with maintaining great water quality and high dissolved oxygen levels. An aquatic heater should be used to stabilize water temperature, ensuring it does not fluctuate more than +/-2 degrees in a 24-hour period. The specific gravity should remain stable. Do not allow specific gravity to fluctuate more than +/-0.001 in a 24-hour period
  • Décor - Provide rock and décor for hiding places and grazing as well as plenty of room for movement



What to feed your tang

A well-balanced tang diet consists of:

  • Commercial algae or algae sheets
  • Blanched lettuce or spinach
  • Marine flake or pelleted herbivore food
  • Mysis and brine shrimp (live or frozen)

Things to remember when feeding your tang:

  • Algae or algae sheets should always be present in the aquarium, attached to the side of the aquarium with a veggie clip.
  • Thaw frozen food before feeding


Tang care

  • Water care: Maintaining great water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration is important to help keep your tang healthy
    • Daily: Check filter, water temperature and other equipment
    • Weekly: Test water quality at least once a week
    • Weekly to monthly: Change 10 to 25% of the total volume of water every two to four weeks, or as needed; change filter media monthly
  • Avoid overcrowded conditions, as this is a major cause of stress and disease. Maintain good water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration


Where to buy 

 In store & online  Tangs are available for purchase at Petco online and in store; availability varies by location. If visiting your local location, call ahead to check availability.




Tank mates

Compatible with:

  • Dwarf and large angelfish
  • Blennies
  • Clownfish
  • Eels
  • Gobies
  • Groupers
  • Hawkfish
  • Lionfish
  • Pseudochromis
  • Puffers  
  • Wrasse 
  • Can be compatible with other tang species of different shapes and sizes, or with similar tang species in a larger aquarium. Introduce new inhabitants to the aquarium gradually



Signs of a healthy fish

  • Clear eyes
  •  Healthy appetite 
  • Bright, even coloring 
  • Fins completely intact and undamaged
  • Free of parasites or disease

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your local aquatic specialist or veterinarian.)

  • Loss of appetite
  • Spots or fungus on body or mouth
  • Listlessness
  • Labored breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Erratic swimming
  • Frayed fins


Common health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health IssueFin rot Symptoms or CausesFrayed or disintegrating fins; the base of the fins usually reddens. Suggested ActionImprove water quality; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueMarine Ich Symptoms or CausesCysts on fins, gills and skin; labored breathing, excess skin mucus or pale skin. Suggested ActionQuarantine fish immediately and use a commercial parasite remedy. Complete a water change; freshwater dips can help dislodge the parasites; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueBacterial infections Symptoms or CausesCloudy eyes, open sores and/or reddening of the skin. Suggested ActionImprove water quality; use a commercial antibacterial remedy as directed; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueViral infection (lymphocystis) Symptoms or CausesWhite nodule growths on fins or body Suggested ActionImprove water quality; consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.



  • What do blue tangs eat? Blue tangs should be offered sufficient amounts of algae, from natural algae, algae sheets, flake and pellet diets for herbivores. They may also accept brine and mysis shrimp
  • Where can I buy tang fish? Various tang species are available in our Petco Pet Care Centers as well as on  
  • What eats surgeonfish? Surgeonfish can be eaten by larger predatory fish like  barracuda, tuna, snapper and grouper. 
  • How long do blue tang fish live? Blue tangs can live up to 20 years with proper care 
  • What do yellow tang fish eat? Yellow tangs need abundant amounts of algae for optimal health. They may also accept meaty food like brine and mysis shrimp 
  • Where do blue tang fish live? Blue tangs can be found across the Indo-Pacific Where do yellow tang fish live? Yellow tangs are native to the Pacific Ocean around the Hawaiian Islands


Additional care sheets


Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as atypical mycobacterium and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life and/or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of diseases.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing and/or caring for aquatic life and should consider not having aquatic life as a pet.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at for more information about aquatic life and disease.


The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, contact your veterinarian as appropriate.