Purple Tang (Zebrasoma Xanthurum): Ultimate Care Guide


Common NamePurple Tang, Yellow-Tail Tang, Blue Surgeonfish
Scientific NameZebrasoma Xanthurum
OriginArabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea
Temperature74-82°F
Water pH8.1-8.4
Adult Sizeup to 10 inches
DietOmnivorous with a preference for a herbivorous diet

Purple Tang Facts

  • Purple Tangs have a built-in defense system in the form of their caudal spine. This part of their body is often called a scalpel. Purple Tangs use their scalpel for defense. If you are working in a tank that houses Purple Tangs, you will want to use care so that you do not get injured.
  • Purple Tangs are not an easy fish to care for, and are considered a higher difficulty to keep. If you are new to the fish keeping hobby, you will most likely not want to start out with Purple Tangs.

Purple Tang

Purple Tangs are strikingly colored fish that can be identified by their beautiful range of blue to purple coloration. Purple Tangs have vibrant yellow tail fins, and often their pectoral fins will be bright yellow as well.

Some Purple Tangs also have black dots that may or may not be visible until you get close up to them as they blend in with their dark, vibrant body coloration. There can be many different variations of these dots as well as some fish not having any at all.

 Purple tang have large dorsal and anal fins that when extended outward fully, they give the Purple Tang the appearance that the fish is as tall as it is long.

Similar to other species of surgeonfish, Purple Tangs have a caudal spine. This caudal spine is often referred to as a scalpel. Purple Tangs use this scalpel for defense against other fish when defending themselves or their territory. It is important to keep in mind that Purple Tangs are equipped with this defense system, and you should always exercise caution when working in their tank, or with the Purple Tangs themselves.

It is possible to tell male Purple Tangs from females by looking, but the difference is so subtle that it can be difficult. The male Purple Tang at full maturity is slightly larger than the female.

Purple Tang (Zebrasoma Xanthurum)
Purple Tang (Zebrasoma Xanthurum)

Are Purple Tangs Hard to Keep?

Purple Tangs are not easy fish to acclimate, and have a rather large list of requirements to keep them happy. In addition to them needing to be housed in a minimum of a 100 gallon aquarium for just one fish, they are prone to ailment if they are not kept in the exact right water parameters. Purple Tangs tend to be territorial and aggressive in the home aquarium with their own species, and with other fish that resemble their species in shape.

 In the wild, it is not uncommon to see Purple Tangs cohabitating with other Purple Tangs, other species of surgeonfish, and other types of ocean fish. In the home aquarium, Purple Tangs become territorial and will go after other fish that have a similar shape to other surgeonfish. It is said that some keepers of Purple Tangs have had success in keeping multiple Purple Tangs in a tank together by introducing them all at once and preventing them from establishing a territory. This situation may work for a short time, but ultimately there would be issues.

Food and Diet

Purple Tangs are omnivorous fish. This means that they eat both plant matter and animal. However, Purple Tangs are more likely to lean towards plant matter as their preferred food. In the home aquarium, it is not likely that all of their dietary needs can be met by grazing on algae in the tank alone. You will need to supplement their diet by offering them proteins. Purple Tangs are not picky eaters, and will accept mysis shrimp and brine shrimp. 

It is better to feed Purple Tang fish 2 to 3 times per day in smaller amounts that they can completely consume in a few minutes. This will help keep your tank clean, and also ensure that your fish are getting what they need in terms of caloric requirements. Purple Tangs are an active fish that will quickly burn off fat due to their active nature.

Size and Lifespan

Purple Tangs can grow up to 10 inches long at full maturity. In the wild, Purple Tangs have been documented living from 35 to 40 years. In captivity, Purple Tangs usually live up to 10 years when properly cared for. The health and happiness of the Purple Tang is largely dependent on the conditions in which they are kept.

Tank Requirements

Purple Tangs are fish that are not considered easy or inexpensive to keep in a home aquarium setup. They require a minimum of 100 gallons tank to house only one fish. Like all species of surgeonfish, the Purple Tang is an active fish that requires a lot of space to roam. If Purple Tangs are not kept in adequate conditions it can trigger stress and aggression amongst your fish. If you have the room for it, a larger tank is always better for this species.

Purple Tangs require a strong current for the development of their fins, and a strong powerhead will help keep a powerful current flowing in your tank as well as help oxygenate the water.

Purple Tangs require 8.1 to 8.4 pH, and a water temperature of 74F to 82F. Due to their preferred higher temperature, you will want to make sure that you also provide their tank setup with an adequate heater.

Purple Tangs are very sensitive to changes in their water parameters, and you will want to make sure that you are monitoring their setup frequently so that you catch any issues before your Purple Tangs are affected. If there is a problem in the aquarium that is housing Purple Tang fish, you will begin to notice the fish exhibiting signs of stress almost immediately.

Lighting for a Purple Tang tank is much easier to set up as they will be happy with regular aquarium lighting.

Tank Setup

When setting up a tank for Purple Tangs, you will want to first make sure that you are providing them with enough room to roam. They are an active fish that like to have lots of space to explore, and exercise. Setting them up in an aquarium that is minimum 100 gallons or more is ideal for only one Purple Tang. Purple Tangs are most active during the day, but at night they prefer to sleep with their bodies wedged in between the nooks and crevices of rocks. You will want to make sure to include live rock in your aquarium setup for them to get comfortable and sleep but also keep in mind to sacrifice as little of the open space as possible.

When choosing substrate for a Purple Tang tank, you will want to go with a substrate that is as close as possible to what they are used to in their natural habitat in the wild. When Purple Tangs are feeling agitated, they will root around and tear up the substrate, so it is best to use soft sand.

In the wild, Purple Tangs spend most of their time searching the reef for algae to eat. In the home aquarium, you can expect them to do much of the same during the day. The amount of algae they can get from a home aquarium is not enough to meet their dietary needs. Living rock will help encourage algae growth for Purple Tangs to scavenge and feed on.

Are Purple Tangs Reef Safe?

Purple Tangs are reef safe, and even beneficial to them. Purple Tangs can be found most active during the day scavenging through the reef looking for algaes to eat. They are great at ridding the reef of algae without damaging the sensitive polyps of the coral.

Purple Tang Breeding

It is nearly impossible to breed Purple Tangs in captivity as they are often too aggressive and territorial to keep more than one in a home aquarium. In the wild, Purple Tangs will pair off when they are ready to spawn. The male dances around the female and they swim towards the surface together before they both release their genetic material into the water at the same time.

Are Purple Tangs Bred in Captivity?

Purple Tangs are not bred in captivity as it is nearly impossible to house more than one in a home aquarium. There have been commercial breeders that have been successful in getting them to breed in captivity fairly recently, but it is still considered a difficult task.

Purple Tang Diseases

Purple Tangs have and produce less of the protective body slime that other fish have. This makes them susceptible to infections. Purple Tangs can commonly get saltwater ich, lateral line disease, and parasitic infections. These ailments are most commonly brought on by stress. Purple Tangs are a fish that is quickly and easily prone to stress if their conditions are not being properly met. If you notice that your Purple Tang is not looking as vibrantly colored as it normally does, the chances are high that you have a stressed out fish.

Purple Tang Lateral Line Disease

When stressed, Purple Tangs can develop an illness called Lateral Line Disease. This is also commonly referred to as hole-in-the-head disease. This is a bacterial infection that causes the fish to have a literal hole in its body. This disease can be treated and cured if caught early enough, but if left without treatment it is fatal.

Purple Tang and Ich Disease

Purple Tangs, like most fish, are susceptible to Ich. Ich is a bacterial infection that can be identified by the white spots that it leaves on the body of the fish. Ich is not fatal unless left untreated. Ich is usually the result of the fish not being kept in adequate conditions.

Purple Tang Tank Mates

Purple Tangs are territorial of their own species, and even other fish have a similar shape. It is better to house a single Purple Tang in your home aquarium. Even though they are aggressive to their own species, they can still be kept in a community tank setup. Just make sure that they are not being housed with other fish that will be aggressive or try to out compete them for food. Smaller fish are also not a good idea as they will get bullied.

Fish that would be good tank mates to house with Purple Tangs would include some Angelfish and types of Wrasse.

Are Purple Tang Aggressive?

Purple Tang are aggressive towards their own species, and even to fish that have a similar shape. Although they are territorial and aggressive, they can still be kept with other fish in a community setup. With all new fish you introduce together, you will want to make sure that you are monitoring them so that you can catch any problems before they get out of hand.

Where Can I Find Purple Tang for Sale?

Due to their difficulty in keeping them together and breeding them in captivity, they are not as easy to get ahold of as other species of fish. If you happen to find a breeder online that has some available to sell, you can expect a small fish about roughly 1 inch in length to cost you around $100. Though, it is more common to find them slightly larger and around $150 and up. Make sure that you are purchasing your fish from a reputable breeder so that you are ensuring that you are getting healthy fish.

Purple Tang vs Yellow Tang

The most obvious difference between Purple Tang and Yellow Tang is the main color of the bodies. Both the Yellow and Purple Tang enjoy the same diet, water parameters, and have the same tank requirements. It is said that the Purple Tangs are slightly more aggressive while the Yellow Tangs are slightly more docile. Yellow Tangs do not grow to be as big as Purple Tangs.

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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