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Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

The Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) known to tropical fish keeping enthusiasts as the Lemon Sailfin, Yellow Sailfin Tang, Citrus Tang, or Somber Surgeonfish, is found in the Pacific Ocean and the Western Central Atlantic off the coast of Florida.  Its range extends east of Japan to the Ryukyu, Mariana, Marshall, Marcus, Wake, and Hawaiian islands west of Hawaii, and east of Japan. Although a single specimen was filmed in Spanish waters in the Mediterranean Sea in 2008; it was believed to be an aquarium release.

The mainly herbivorous Yellow Tang is frequently encountered on the shallow reefs of their range as solitary specimens or more frequently in small pods or schools, where they feed on filamentous algae at depths from 6 to over 150 feet.

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

The Yellow Tang is one of the most popular surgeonfish in the aquarium trade.   They are active swimmers that have a vibrant bright yellow body color with a white spine on their caudal peduncle that they use for defense.   They have large eyes, a moderately protruding snout, and a small mouth with spatulate teeth.

During the night, their bright yellow body color fades slightly and a brownish patch with a horizontal white band develops in the middle of the body.   At daybreak, the bright yellow body color magically reappears.  Males are generally larger than females.

The Yellow Tang is best housed in a well established reef or FOWLR aquarium of at least 120 gallon capacity with a sandy or crushed coral substrate and plenty of live rock arranged into caves, overhangs, and open crevices for them to hide among and graze on.  They are an active species that need well filtered water, plenty of free swimming space, and a moderate amount of current movement in the tank.   A couple of strategically placed powerheads or wavemakers will generally fill the bill.

Like most other Tangs, the Yellow Tang can demonstrate territorial aggression towards its own species, and other Tangs.   Unless multiple Zebrasoma flavescens are simultaneously introduced into a very large aquarium at the same time, it is recommended that only one Yellow Tang be kept in a community tank.

Prior to the Hawaiian export ban, almost 70% of wild Zebrasoma flavescens were harvested from Hawaii’s waters, and now over 70% of their range is protected from collectors and fishermen. Fortunately for tropical fish keeping enthusiasts, the Yellow Tang was successfully bred in an aquarium environment in 2015 for the tropical fish keeping industry.

Although Yellow Tangs are substratum egg scatterers that spawn throughout the year, their spawning activity peaks around a full moon. Males and females are almost indistinguishable but during mating, the males change color and display a “shimmering” behavior.

Spawning activity occurs in pairs and in groups. Fertilization is external and after a brief courtship ritual, the male and female swim upward into the water column where the female releases her eggs and the male immediately fertilizes them. The planktonic eggs drift with the current along the surface until they hatch. The finless fry live off the yolk sack until completely absorbed, at which point they drift to the bottom of the reef feeding on microalgae until they grow into juveniles.

In the wild, Yellow Tangs feed on benthic turf algae, various marine plant based materials, and occasionally provide cleaner services to sea turtles by removing algal growth from their shells.

In an aquarium environment, the Yellow Tang will eat meaty foods but they also requires plenty of marine based seaweed and algae to strengthen their immune systems, reduce aggression, and improve their overall health.  They should be provided ample amounts of Spirulina or algae pellets along with dried seaweed, or Nori on a veggie clip in addition to the live rock in their tank.

Captive bred Yellow Tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens) are now routinely available for purchase from tropical fish stores and a variety of online vendors.   Prior to the collection ban in January 2021, prices were in the $65 to $70 range. Now you can expect to pay from $250.00 to $400.00 for small: 1” to 1-3/4″, to medium: 2″ to 3″ size specimens.

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens)







Minimum Tank Size: 120 gallons
Aquarium Type: Reef or FOLR
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Semi Aggressive
Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy
Water Conditions: 75-80° F, dKH 8-12, pH 8.1-8.4, sg 1.020-1.025
Max. Size: 8″
Color Form: Yellow
Diet: Herbivore
Compatibility: Reef
Origin: West Pacific, Hawaii
Family: Acanthuridae
Lifespan: 30 years
Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate


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