Clown Tang (Acanthurus lineatus): Ultimate Care Guide


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With bright blue and yellow stripes over a white lower belly, the Clown Tang is a visually impressive species that can be the centerpiece of a tank. And it needs to be a big tank. Clown Tangs require lots of room because they swim and graze constantly. A difficult fish to care for, this species requires large tanks and faultless water chemistry. Hobbyists who spend the time to properly care for this fish are rewarded with their eye-catching colors and behaviors. Reef safety is another great trait of this fish. Unlike other species in the surgeonfish family–of which the Clown Tang is a member–they will not harm corals. However they will devour Filamentous green algae, which is great news for aquarists.

Originally from the Indo-Pacific: Fiji, Maldives and New Caledonia. Clown Tangs are herbivorous and can be aggressive to tank mates. Very territorial, they will try starting fights with any fish they meet. Some of this aggression can be tempered by providing a larger tank.

Clown Tang Care

Prone to stress-related maladies, Clown Tangs can be difficult to keep healthy. Needing expert care that might be difficult for beginning hobbyists makes this a choice for the more experienced, with larger tanks.

Clown Tangs are usually live-caught and can have difficulty eating in captivity. Enticing this species to feed is the first hurdle that needs to be crossed after purchase. Sometimes they can be reminded what food is by clipping a piece of dried seaweed or nori inside their tank.

Temperature

Clown Tangs need water temperature between 72° – 78° F.

Water pH

Clown Tangs need water alkalinity between 8.1 – 8.4 pH. To maintain the stable pH and salinity this species requires we recommend an Auto Top Off (ATO) system. An ATO will automatically add water to compensate for evaporation and can keep your water chemistry stable. This is particularly important for sensitive fish like the Clown Tang.

Clown Tang (Acanthurus lineatus)
Clown Tang (Acanthurus lineatus)

Clown Tang Size

Clown Tangs can reach 15 inches in captivity. These fish need lots of room to forage and swim. They will need a much larger tank than their size suggests.

Food & Diet

As an herbivore, Clown Tangs will graze algae and live rock. However, it can be challenging to coax them to eat when new to captivity. Clown Tangs are caught live in the wild. When newly purchased they are usually not accustomed to eating in captivity and have to be encouraged. If you are having issues getting your Clown Tang to eat, use a veggie clip to place a piece of dried seaweed or nori in their tank. This will need to be changed out two or three times a week. Your Clowns may be more willing to eat this and it can stimulate their normal feeding behavior.

As Clown Tangs are herbivores you should have enough live rock and algae growth for them to feed on. When they become accustomed to feeding in captivity they will constantly graze and pick at live rock in the tank.

Even though your Clowns are herbivores they can still be fed a small amount of proteins such as brine shrimp, tubifex worms, Mysis shrimp and Krill. Occasional feeding of meaty foods can help their stripes stay bright and colorful.

Lifespan

In the wild, Clown Tangs can live 25 to 30 years. Due to the stress of captivity they usually don’t live past 10 years. Increase their health and lifespan by watching your water chemistry and taking as many steps as possible to keep them comfortable in your tank.

Tank Size

Clown Tangs need a large amount of space to swim and forage. 250 gallons is the minimum tank size for this species. They are happiest in massive tanks, though this is not feasible for the average hobbyist.

When choosing a tank for this species you’ll want something long as opposed to deep. Clowns want to cover a lot of territory and a larger tank can help provide this. Also consider stress. Clown Tangs don’t always adapt well to captivity. The larger a tank you can provide, the better your fish will adapt and the healthier it will be.

Tank Setup

Clown Tangs require large tanks, live rocks and algae to graze on and tightly controlled water chemistry. Minimum take size for Clown Tangs is 250 gallons. These should have greater length than depth. Your Clown swims and forages constantly and needs lots of horizontal room.

Clown Tangs graze live rock–in addition to algae. Combined with their large tank needs, this can mean lots of live rock. You’ll want enough to permit grazing but not enough to prevent free swimming. It’s a careful balance.

Consider making your own live rock from dry rock. Commercially produced dry rock or DIY dry rock works. Any dry rock–especially DIY dry rock–will need to be cured first. This process involves soaking in salt water with frequent water changes and ammonia testing. The goal is to remove all ammonia content from the dry rock. This can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months and there aren’t any shortcuts.

Once your dry rock is fully cured you can begin the cycling process. This will take six to eight weeks and will require seeding material: either live rocks or a fishless cycling kit which will include seeding bacteria. This process can take a while, but with it can be a more economic solution than purchasing live rock. Using live rock for seeding increases the possibility of adding unwanted parasites or disease.

Clown Tangs are especially sensitive to water quality and chemistry. Plan to include wave makers and power heads. You will also want an Auto Top Off (ATO) system to replace evaporated water and help keep your pH and salinity constant. Not every aquarium needs a protein skimmer but Clowns will be happier if you invest in this extra equipment.

Clown Tangs need pristine water conditions. An adequate filter system is needed. You’ll want a filter that can turn over the full contents of your tank four times an hour. For instance, a 250 gallon aquarium will need a 1000 GPH (gallons per hour) filter system.

Are Clown Tang Reef Safe?

Clown Tangs are part of the surgeonfish family. Unlike many in the family, they are reef safe.

Breeding

In nature, Clown Tang groups cluster during a full moon for spawning. It is nearly impossible to recreate this breeding behavior in captivity.

Disease

Clown Tangs are subject to various diseases in captivity, including Head and Lateral Line Erosion, Ich and parasitic infections. Clowns become more susceptible to disease as their stress levels increase. For best health ensure they have pristine water, enough live rock to graze on and excellent water chemistry.

Tank Mates

Clown Tangs are territorial and somewhat aggressive. They don’t make the best tank mates and it is common for them to be kept as solitary specimens.

Tank mates can be a possibility for Clown Tangs as long as they are similar size and not another Tang. Some exceptions to this can include Yellow Tangs, Purple Tangs.

One thing to know about Clown Tang aggression is that it increases as they mature. At 4 inches you might not have any problems. Once your Clown grows to over 6 inches it may start attacking other fish in the tank.

Use caution when pairing other fish with a Clown, if you attempt it at all.

Where can I find Clown Tang for sale?

Clown Tangs can be purchased online and from marine aquarium stores. An advantage to buying at an aquarium store is that you can verify the Clown is feeding before finalizing your purchase. Clown Tangs are wild-caught and often have issues eating in captivity. Coaxing them to feed can be a challenge. Once they are accustomed to tank foods they shouldn’t have future issues with feeding.

Clown Tang prices vary depending on size. Expect to pay $80 US for a small fish and around $450 US for a large specimen of 9 inches or more.

Clown Tang vs Sohal Tang

The Sohal Tang is a Red Sea endemic and Persian gulf species. It lacks the bright coloration of the Clown Tang but is a more hardy species. Both fishes can be aggressive and tank mates should be selected with care. Sohal Tangs are reported as reef safe but this can vary on a fish-by-fish basis. Each Sohal can have it’s own personality and disposition.

Clown Tang vs Yellow Tang

A reef fish endemic to Hawaii, the Yellow Tang is a favorite in aquariums due to its reef safe nature. One of the smaller surgeonfishes it may have difficulty with the larger, more aggressive Clown Tang. Like the Clown Tang, it is a constant grazer and will consume nuisance algae. It usually won’t harm LPS, SPS or zoanthids. But every fish has its own personality and yours might behave differently. Yellow Tangs do not have the space requirements of Clown Tangs. They can be content with tanks of 50 gallons and larger.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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