So you want a tang?

Craig Manoukian

Well-Known Member

The subject of tangs, what kind and how many, comes up alot. The problem is there are several answers depending on the type of set-up you have and what you are looking for. I am going to discuss having multiple tangs that are reef safe. There are lots of tangs and surgeon fish that are superb candidates for large fish only set-ups, but those won't be discussed here.

How big of a tank do I need?

In general, tangs require a minimum of 48" of lateral swim room as they are very active swimmers and grazers. Hex and corner bow tanks are not as good of a tank choice because the water volume tends to be more vertical, and other than jelly fish, fish do not swim vertically in their normal activities.

The adult size of the fish is important in choosing the right tank for the tang, or vice versa. Of the tangs that are readily available in the aquaria trade, they grow to a minimum of 7" and the vast majority to 10" - 15". The maximum adult size of the fish should determine the size of your tank.

What do I want a tang for?

Tangs offer a wide variety of body styles and colors. They are excellent and active swimmers that add personality and action to your tank. The most important benefit of having these fish is that, in addition to being active swimmers, they are tremendous grazers and agaevores, aka, good cleaner crew members.

What do I feed my tangs?

Tangs eat a wide variety of algae and may supplement their diet with meaty foods you introduce to your tank. Flake food and seaweed are also to their liking. People also feed their tangs broccolli or other green vegatable matter that approximates their plant diet in the sea. These fish atre known for their appetites and have been called a lot of thing, but never late for dinner.

How many tangs can I have in my tank?

The real challenge here is that it depends on how big the tangs are. You can certainly keep two or three juvenile tangs in a 75 - 100 gallon tank, for a while. They will grow and you will need to accomodate that adult growth at some time in the future. This can be achieved by moving to a new and bigger tank, what a strategy, eh ;), or trading them in to an LFS or some other more suitable home.

In most reef tanks in the 75 - 100 gallon range you can keep two tangs in the 7' - 10" adult size range without too much problem if you mix the genus properly. Anything under 75 gallons and 48" or longer can accomodate one tang. in that size range.

Michael Paletta suggest a much bigger tank than 75 - 100 gallons for three tangs. I believe he has three in his 240 gallon reef tank.

That being said, there are three genuses that generally get along well because they don't compete for the same food source. The three genuses are:

1. Zebrasoma
2. Acanthurus
3. Ctenochaetus

I have experience with three species, one from each genus that get along well together as they are some of the more peaceful tangs. They are the Sailfin (Zebrasoma veliferum), Convict (Acanthurus triostegus), and Yellow Eyed Kole (Ctenochaetus strigosus) tangs and all are very efficient macro algae eaters. The Sailfin and Convict are very good macroalgaevores and the Yellow Eyed Kole is expert at cleaning green and brown PITA algae from the glass and rocks.

There are several species from each of these genuses that can be mixed and matched. Remember that these are generalities and that each fish is different and may become aggressive if it feels it's territory is being encroached. Some individual fish just have bad dispositions and are not good tank mates.

It is my experience that it is best to add mutiple tangs, odd numbers are better, as young juveniles of the same size. In this way they are not predisposed to aggressive or territorial behavior, and they get to grow up together and gain a familiarity that leads to less potential conflicts.

It is critical that you are responsible and provide tangs with the appropriate swim room. You have to realize that a 240 gallon tank does not duplicate the swim territory of a sinlge tang in the wild so we are really providing the minimum.

How big do most tangs in the three genuses mentioned above get?

I will list the adult size of tangs from each of the genuses, not all have the same dispostion:


Convict (Acanthurus triostegus), 10"
Orangeshoulder Tang (Acanthurus olivaceous), 14"
Powder Blue Tang (Acanthurus leucosternon), 9"
Whitecheek Tang (Acanthurus nigricans), 8"
Blue Caribbean Tang (Acanthurus coeruleus), 9"
Clown Tang (Acanthurus lineatus), 15" (Mean as snakes per mojoreef)
Lieutenant Tang (Acanthurus tennenti), 10"
Lemon Tang (Acanthurus sp.), 10"
Lavender Tang (Acanthurus nigrofuscus), 8"

Paracanthurus (A sub species of Acanthurus)

Blue or Hippo Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus), 12"


Yellow Eyed Kole (Ctenochaetus strigosus), 7"
Bristletooth Tomini Tang (Ctenochaetus tominiensis), 7"
Chevron Tang (Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis), 11"


Sailfin (Zebrasoma veliferum), 15"
Black Longnose Tang (Zebrasoma rostratum), 10"
Yellow Hawaiian Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), 8"
Purple Tang (Zebrasoma xanthurum), 10"

Happy Reefing!
Last edited:


JoePa lives on!!!
Staff member
Mind reader????? Craig????? Naaa......Wow, i was just going to make a post to get some information about what kind of tangs to get and the Boom...Craig comes through....Karma to you Bro!!!


the wood dude
imo ,you want a tang ok.i've had tangs and yea their beautiful fish but not in my reef.very agressive fish.if your going to get one add it last to the tank,if you dont they will harras any new fish you add to the tank.jmpe. dave.
Last edited:


Fish Addict
Great post Craig! I like tangs, but I wouldn't put one in less than 50 gallons, because they are messy as well. The yellow hawaiian that I had got stressed too easily in my tank, and probably would've been much happier in at least a 75. I personally wouldn't buy another tang unless I have the bigger tank for it cycling or something, because they are picky eaters IME and don't like being in small tanks at all.


Wannabe Guru
Great info craig I recently questioned someone at another site about adding 3 tangs to a 90gal, one of them being a sailfin that can grow to 15". I had a yellow tang in my 42 hex he was small but I new that he didn't belong in there so I decided to bring him back to the lfs.


Great post Craig, what is your favorite tang? I had an orange shoulder in my 240 a few years ago and he was the most personable fish i have ever owned.

Craig Manoukian

Well-Known Member
Not sure what Tang you are referring to woodood, the Yellow tangs tand to be more aggressive than others. I listed the three more docile species in each of the genuses. Remember that I did qualify my statements that those are the fish I have experience with and that these are generalities with every individual fish being different.

My favorite tang is the Yellow Eyed Kole.

My Yellow Eyed Kole regularly picks up sand and so I assume that is for digestion purposes. Had never heard that before TG, but it makes sense in terms of the observation. Could also be eating any algae present in the sand.

I reiterate that the minimum tank size is a 75 gallon for one or two tangs and it imperative that you manage your tank to accomodate their size.

Glad you all enjoyed the information.
  • Like
Reactions: Leo


JoePa lives on!!!
Staff member
Hey...what would you guys say to adding a purple tang and a naso tang to my 90? I have a hawkfish, clown and royal gramma. Also thinking anout a copperband butterfly. Please let me know what you think,



Wannabe Guru
The purple tang is an agressive fish and the naso grows to 18" and is even larger than the sailfin, so you may run into some issues with that combination. As far as the copperband I bought one a couple of days ago and the problem is getting them to eat. So far mine has only eaten some live brine shrimp most starve. I'm hoping mine fares better :( JMHO


Well-Known Member
this is a great post Craig

should anything be said about "ich" with these fishes, or are you working on another post with this in mind

other things to consider is flow, certin tangs need flow (so ive herd), i found this out with my naso, i increased the flow and he calmed down
there is also the amount of LR, but as said, this are reef fish and LR shouldnt be an issue, but most tangs like to have a lot of rock work with plunty of hiding places

i only have 2 tangs yellow & the naso, and can only give my opinions with what i have learned from these 2


Craig Manoukian

Well-Known Member
Not to duck any questions, but as I qualified in the original post, this thread would be limited to the three genuses that have the best chance of being mixed in the average reef tank. Those genuses are Acanthurus, Ctenochaetus, and Zebrasoma. Nasos, Vlamingii and others are great fish, but require much bigger tanks than the average sized reef tank we encounter here.

For example, mojoreef has an absolutely exquisite Vlamingii in his tank, but keep in mind that is a 700 gallon tank.

HTH:) :D :cool: ;) :p :smirk:

Craig Manoukian

Well-Known Member
Here is my take on ich and I expect some controversy from these remarks. I have never had a tang with ich in my tank in a little over two years.

Ich is a parasite. All parasites need a host. Parasites exist in all forms of nature and the negative effects of the parasite are in direct proportion to the host's ability to prevail against it.

It is widely believed that ich exists in every tank. If that is the case, then it stands to reason, that all the ich parasite needs is a host it can attack. So all ich needs is a fish under enough stress, whether it be a tang, an angel, etc., so that it can proliferate.

The best way to avoid ich is to have healthy unstressed fish. Red Skunk Cleaner Shrimp are also an important component of an overall Ich Prevention Plan.

The key to a successful Ich Prevention Plan starts before you add any livestock to your tank. The Plan assumes you have researched the type of tank you want to have, i.e. FO or reef, and have developed a stocking plan. This plan includes the total adult length your tank can accomodate for all fish and an introduction schedule that is slow and gradual. In addition, you add the fish in a least to most aggressive progression. I believe that people add too many fish too soon. This causes a spike in ammonia that the dentrification bacteria is not able to handle and results in poor water quality which will stress all of the fish in the tank.

In addition, we probably don't do a very good job of shopping for our fish. It is important to watch the fish at the LFS and see if it is swimming comfortably and eating. Are there signs of nipped fins, labored breathing, or other indicators of stress? Did the fish just arrive to the LFS from Fiji or has it had a few days to acclimate from being yanked out of the ocean? Did it take two hours for the LFS employee to completely exhaust your fish befor netting it? I tell the folks at my LFS that if it takes more than 60 seconds or two passes to catch the fish, I don't want it.

If you have followed the ideas presented above, bring home healthy fish, and properly acclimate them you can avoid the majority of ich challenges in my opinion. By proper planning, avoidance, and prevetion, you can eliminate the real challenge of treating a fish who has this disease, yikes, and that is a topic that needs its own thread which should be more properly be discussed in the forum dealing with the proper diagnosis and treatment of common fish diseases.

:) :D :cool: ;) :p :mad:
Last edited: