Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum): Ultimate Care Guide


Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum) is a gorgeous fish and a great addition to a home tank. These fish are very popular in the aquarium trade because they have a peaceful nature, easily acclimate to most tank conditions, and have simple needs. This makes them a great fish for a beginner tank.

Sailfin Tangs are marine reef tangs. They are native to Oceania, the Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific. They like to swim in water depths of 3 to 200 feet and mainly stay in sea-weed reefs and lagoons.

The body of the Sailfin Tang is disc-shaped with broad yellow and dark (blue, brown, or black) bands stretching across its body. The bands resemble zebra stripes and they extend onto the fish’s fins. The darker bands have yellow dots and stripes and the caudal fin is yellow. Sailfin Tang fish have a white head with yellow dots. They have an elevated dorsal fin, a big anal fin, and an extended snout. Sailfin Tangs have one dark band with yellow dots running across their eye with another one behind the eye. They have a sharp spine on each side of the caudal peduncle which they use for protection and to establish dominance. The scalpel folds down inside a groove when not in use.

Their skin color is light beige with stripes, but it will turn dark brown if the fish is under stress. Young fish have are yellow in color, but otherwise, look similar to adult fish. They also have pharyngeal teeth like the other members of the Zebrasoma genus.

Sailfin Tangs are beautiful fish and a great addition to a saltwater aquarium. They are moderately easy to take care of and fun to watch, but they do require a lot of space and specific tank requirements to live their best life.

Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum)
Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum)

Sailfin Tang Care

Sailfin Tang is a semi-hardy saltwater species, though they do need specific living requirements. The tank should have at least 6 months of nitrogen cycling to pass before introducing a sailfin. If this process is skipped, the fish could develop an illness like marine ich. Quarantine them for 2 weeks before adding them to a tank with other fish.

They don’t have a great immune system, so tank maintenance is important. Sailfins need regular cleaning, protein skimming, and hefty filtration.

Sailfin Tang does best in water between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit with a pH of 8.1 to 8.4.

Sailfin Tang is the largest fish of its genus and can grow to nearly 16 inches long. The largest scientifically measured sailfin tang was 40.0 cm (15.7 in). They live 5 to 7 years in the wild but may live longer in captivity.

Sailfin Tang Food & Diet

Sailfin Tangs love to munch on microalgae, the smallest plants in the reef system. This is usually not enough for them though, especially if other herbivores like cleaner shrimp live in the tank.

They will eat meaty foods, but they need to have plenty of marine-based seaweed and algae. Dried seaweed can be tied to a rock or clamped in a veggie clip and fed to the fish. They will need to eat at least three times per week.

Good news, though. Sailfins are not picky eaters. They will eat flakes or pellets containing spirulina. Veggies like broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and zucchini are also good supplements. Mysid and brine shrimp can also be added. The protein will help make their colors pop and the dose of vitamin c will prevent lateral line erosion.

Sailfin Tang Tank Size

Sailfin Tangs need a sizable tank. A few sites say a 125-gallon tank will work, but a 180-gallon tank is truly the smallest recommended size for these fish, and actually, a 200-gallon tank is probably best. While the young fish will be a little smaller, they grow up to be pretty big, pretty fast.

Tank Setup

In the wild, Sailfin Tangs hang out in some pretty strong water currents and swim through turbid reef systems. Sailfin Tang fish are reef-safe fish that like to hide out in rocks and corals and chase off any intruders who come into their territory.

The ideal tank environment for a Sailfin Tang would need to be large, have fast-moving water, and plenty of rocks to hide around. It may be tempting to fill the tank with as many coral and rocks as possible, but these fish need room to swim. They need to be able to turn around with their sail at full extension with no problem. Sailfin Tangs love their hiding places, but they need room to explore too. They prefer shallower waters and lots of light, so using an LED light is recommended.

When adding new fish to the aquarium, the original sailfin residents might chase them around. To avoid this, add several fish into the tank at the same time or change the structure of the aquarium. 

Breeding Sailfin Tang

Male Sailfin Tangs will grow slightly larger than the females, but not enough to be immediately obvious. Most of the successful breeding that happens in captivity has been reported in public aquariums. There might have been a few hobbyists who have been able to breed at home, but those cases are rare. These fish do not get along with their own species, so it makes it difficult to keep them in the same tank long enough for them to breed.

In the wild, Sailfin Tang’s spawning is in sync with the cycle of the moon. Males will try to catch the attention of a female by giving her a color-changing performance. Females only produce one batch of eggs a month, but males will go visit as many females as they can in a single spawning cycle.

Sailfin Tangs are not known for their helicopter parenting. The eggs are fertilized and scattered throughout the reef. Then those youngsters are on their own. During the first three days, the fry is sustained by the attached egg yolk. They start foraging for plankton around day 4.

It takes time for them to develop the compressed shape that tangs are known for, but they do. They also develop their protective razors on the dorsal and ventral fins, but are transparent and lack scales. They develop scales that start as opaque and become filled in with color as they mature.

Disease

Sailfin Tangs are called “dry skinned” fish by some because they produce less body slime than other saltwater fish. This makes them very susceptible to a wide range of diseases. The most common diseases are Lateral Line Disease, parasitic infections, worms, and bacterial diseases.

In the wild, a cleaner wrasse would help by taking the parasites off of their bodies, but wrasses are difficult to keep in captivity. Neon Gobies or cleaner shrimp are some good alternative tank mates that offer tank-cleaning services as part of their lease agreement.

For the best results, a quarantine tank is needed. Making sure Sailfin Tangs have a good quality diet, a relaxing environment, and places to hide are key to making sure the fish are happy and healthy.

Sailfin Tang Tank Mates

Sailfin Tang fish are territorial and can be aggressive, but they are not so aggressive that they can’t get along with other tank mates.

Sailfin Tangs are not schooling fish, and they do not play well with other Sailfin Tangs. The majority of surgeonfish are solitary fish. Sailfin Tangs set up territories and protect them with their built-in scalpel. They use those when they fight each other in matches to death. Unfortunately, Sailfins lose those battles a lot. Having just one Sailfin is probably the best idea.

That does not mean they have to be the only fish in the tank, though. They get along well with cleaner wrasses, neon gobies, and cleaner shrimp. These three tank mates remove parasites from the Sailfin’s scales.

Sailfins do know how to mind their manners around other tank mates, but they will chase new additions to the tank. If they feel threatened, they will try to look bigger by extending their dorsal and anal fins. If that doesn’t work, they will rely on their scalpels. The spine can’t kill another fish, but it does hurt which encourages the threat to leave.

Where to Find Sailfin Tang for Sale?

Sailfin Tang can be found at places like Petco and will cost $60 or more. They are a popular fish and seem to be sold out a lot. It might be worth checking with a local pet store and seeing if they can special order one of these beauties.

Sailfin Tang vs Red Sea Sailfin Tang

The Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum) and the Red Sea Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma desjardinii) both need a large tank to swim around in. A 180-gallon tank or larger is recommended for both fish since they grow to be around the same size of 15 inches. They are aggressive toward their species but more tolerant of other fish. They have the same diet requirements and they both eat algae and seaweed.

The two fish prefer the same tropical climate and have roughly the same diet, although the Red Sea Sailfin Tang has been observed eating jellyfish in the wild.

Young Red Sea Sailfin Tangs look very similar to Sailfin Tang. They may not have spots or fins on their body, but those will show up along with bold striping on their fins and body as they get older.

Red Sea Sailfin Tangs are solitary creatures when they are young, but adults can often be found together in pairs. They are considered moderately difficult to keep in aquariums since they need so much space to swim and are difficult to breed in captivity. They are expected to have the same life expectancy as the Sailfin Tang, about 5 to 7 years.

Sailfin Tang and Yellow Tang

The Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) does have many similarities to the Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum), but they are very easy to differentiate. The Yellow Tang, like its name suggests, is bright yellow.

Both fish live in reefs, reproduce according to the moon cycles, eat algae, and have spiky weapons to help them protect themselves. They are not overprotective parents and leave their fry to fend for themselves immediately after spawning. They both can be aggressive and are prone to marine ich.

Yellow Tangs are about half the size of Sailfin Tangs and live a lot longer. They live to be 30 years old in the wild. Yellow Tangs can be by themselves or in schools, unlike the Sailfin who will not be caught hanging out with other Sailfins.

Yellow Tangs live in reefs in the wild but may damage coral in a reef tank. 

Yellow Tangs are mainly harvested from an area in the Pacific Ocean around the Hawaiian Islands. They have also been spotted off the coast of Florida, where they are not native.

Conclusion

Sailfin Tangs make a great addition to a large saltwater aquarium. They like to swim and explore, so they need a tank that is 180-200 gallons. They are aggressive toward their kind but can live with some other tank mates.

Sailfins are territorial and will try to puff up and make themselves look bigger to scare off a threat. If it doesn’t work, they will try to use their scalpel to defend themselves. It is worth noting they can try and use this weapon against a person sticking their hand in the tank too. While it is doubtful that any lasting damage will be done by their spike, its existence cannot be forgotten.

They are beautiful fish to watch swimming around in a tank, but they have specific living requirements. They are susceptible to several different diseases, so proper tank maintenance is important. Quarantining them for 2 weeks before adding them to an established tank is highly recommended. The extra time will be worth it to see those brilliant yellow stripes swimming around the tank.

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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