Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma Flavescens) | Ultimate Care Guide


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Yellow Tangs (Zebrasoma Flavescens) remain one of the most popular choices for saltwater aquariums today. They are often chosen for their agreable temperament, and their striking coloration. The easiest way to identify the Yellow Tang is by its vibrant yellow coloration. Everything about this fish is yellow. The body, the fins, and even the eyes.

Common NameYellow Tang
Yellow TangZebrasoma Flavescens
OriginPacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Hawaiian Waters
Temperature72F to 82F
Water pH8.1 – 8.4
Adult Sizeup to 7.9 inches
DietHerbivorous

Yellow Tang Facts

  • Yellow Tangs not only eat algae from the coral reefs where they live, they can also be found helping out sea turtles by cleaning the algae growth from their shells. The sea turtles will stop by the reef just for this service, and the Yellow Tangs get a nice snack in return.
  • If the needs of the Yellow Tang are not being met, then you will be able to see their color fade. Brightly colored Yellow Tangs are signs that they are happy and healthy.

Yellow Tang Care

Yellow Tangs can be good fish for beginners if they are placed in the appropriate setup. They require that they are placed in a well established aquarium that has been cycled through. Yellow Tangs also require a rather large tank to keep them happy. If you are aware of their needs, and have a plan in place to house them, then you will have success in keeping Yellow Tangs.

In the wild, Yellow Tangs can be found in the warm Hawaiian waters of the Pacific Ocean, and even in the waters around Florida. They inhabit tropical reefs, where they search for and feed on algae.

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma Flavescens)
Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma Flavescens)

Are Yellow Tang Reef Safe?

Yellow Tang are among the most reef safe of all Tangs. They can be kept with all types of corals without issue. They can sometimes be found searching the corals for algae, and it is possible that they could damage them in their search. To help protect your coral, you will want to make sure that your tank has lots of living rock for them to graze upon for algae. Giving them a foraging space, and feeding them the correct diet will help keep the Yellow Tang away from the coral.

Are Yellow Tang Toxic?

Adult Yellow Tang are not toxic, but they harbor a nasty bacteria in their mucosal layer, or slime coat. It is not advisable to handle them or put your hands in their water if you have open wounds. Juvenile Yellow Tang do have a toxin in their bodies, but as they mature they lose it.

Food and Diet

Yellow Tangs are herbivorous fish. This means that they eat mostly plant matter. In the ocean waters of their natural habitat, they can be found snacking on turf algae, and other ocean plant material. In captivity, Yellow Tangs will readily gobble up whatever food you introduce into your aquarium. They will even eat meat based fish foods. Even though they will eat any type of food, that doesn’t mean that it is good for their health.

Yellow Tangs should be offered a varied diet of plant based foods. A high quality vegetarian fish flake food would be best for these herbivores, with the occasional snack of fresh, finely chopped, blanched veggies like spinach. Yellow Tangs should be fed every day, and enough food that it lasts them for a few hours. Yellow Tangs enjoy grazing as they eat.

What Do Yellow Tang Eat in the Wild?

In their native ocean waters, Yellow Tangs can be found eating turf algae and other oceanic plant material. Turf algae grows on and around coral reefs. Yellow Tangs can also be found snacking on the algae growth from sea turtle shells as they stop by the reefs. 

What Do You Feed Yellow Tang in the Aquarium?

Unlike their mostly herbivorous, wild counterparts, the captive Yellow Tang is described as an opportunistic, omnivorous feeder. They will readily eat up whatever they are offered in the home aquarium without a second thought. This is not always good for the Yellow Tang. They should be offered a high quality vegetarian flaked food, along with finely chopped, blanched green veggies like spinach or lettuce. The diet of the Yellow Tang is not complete without the occasional meaty snack as they do still require some of the nutrients from them.

Size & Lifespan

The Yellow Tang can grow up to roughly 7.9 inches at full maturity. In the wild, the average lifespan of the Yellow Tang is around 30 years if they can make it to adulthood. In captivity, this number is much lower. In the home aquarium if the Yellow Tang live past their first year, they have an expected average lifespan of around 5 to 10 years. There are some owners who have had their Yellow Tangs live longer, but their captive lifespan is largely dependent on how they are being cared for.

Yellow Tang Disease

Yellow Tangs, like other species of Tang, have a thinner mucosal layer or slime coat. The slime coat of the fish is what helps protect them from getting illnesses like Ich. Due to their thin slime coat, Yellow Tang are more susceptible to ich, both in its white and black spot varieties. Ich is a parasitic infection that infects the skin of the fish. Yellow Tangs that are infected with ich can be seen scratching themselves on various rocks and decor in their aquarium, as well as develop white or black spots on their bodies. If caught early on, ich can be treated.

Yellow Tangs are also prone to getting an illness called HLLE. This stands for Head and Line Lateral Erosion. HLLE is a disease that affects the fish’s lateral line organ and the skin around the head of the fish.

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma Flavescens)
Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma Flavescens)

Why is My Yellow Tang Losing Color?

The vibrant yellow coloration of the Yellow Tang can be affected by their overall health. If you have a healthy Yellow Tang, they will display their brightest yellow color. If the Yellow Tang is sick, you will be able to see their color dulling. Yellow Tang ailments in captivity are usually caused by improper care. If you notice that your Yellow Tang is losing color, you will want to reevaluate how they are being cared for. Start with making sure that they are being kept in the correct water parameters, and in clean water. Make sure that they are being fed the proper diet, and that they are free from parasites such as ich.

Why is My Yellow Tang Not Eating?

If you have a Yellow Tang that is not eating, the most likely culprit is stress. Stressed out fish will barely eat anything, if at all. Yellow Tangs will stress if their needs are not being met in their environment, and this should be the first place you look to see if there is an issue. Make sure that you have provided your Yellow Tang with a large enough living space, living rock or coral for them to graze, and even some hiding spots for them to destress. An overcrowded tank will also cause your fish to stress.

Keep in mind that Yellow Tang are fish that like to graze for their food. If you do not have living rock, or algae for them to snack on, you could try tying nori onto a rock and sinking that into your tank.

Yellow Tang Tank Requirements

Yellow Tangs require a tank that is at least 100 gallons to house and roughly 4 feet long. This will give them plenty of space to roam and search for food. They require a warmer temperature of at least 72F to 82F, and 8.1 to 8.4 pH. Saltwater aquariums are slightly more demanding than freshwater aquariums, and Yellow Tangs should only be added to a well established saltwater tank.

Yellow Tank Setup

When Choosing items to decorate an aquarium to house Yellow Tang, you will want to try to mimic their natural habitat in the wild. By setting up a tank for Yellow Tang this way you will ensure that your Yellow Tang does not experience stress. Stress can make Yellow Tangs sick quickly. Keep in mind that Yellow Tangs have to be placed into a well established tank.

Yellow Tangs require warmer waters, and will need a reliable heater for their aquarium. They also require clean water with lots of oxygenation. A wider topped aquarium can help provide more oxygen into the water as well as various bubblers, pumps, or even plants.

Yellow Tang aquarium decor should include lots of live rock with algae for them to graze, and feel free to use the rock to give them little places to hide as well. Yellow Tang also enjoy searching the reef for food, and they can be safely added to a reef tank with little issue.

How Do You Setup the Ideal Habitat for Yellow Tang?

Setting up the ideal habitat for your Yellow Tang can be achieved by looking at their natural habitat and trying to mimic it as closely as possible. Yellow Tangs are a fish that is prone to stress easily, and this could lead to poor health. Make sure that their aquarium is large enough, properly decorated, highly oxygenated, and there are plenty of places for Yellow Tangs to graze.

Yellow Tang Breeding

Yellow Tang are group spawners, and they spawn often in the wild. Usually around the time of the full moon.  When they are ready to spawn, the females and the males will swim together until she releases her eggs. The female Yellow Tang releases up to 40,000 eggs during this time. The male then swims through the eggs and fertilizes them. The water currents disperse the eggs around until they are ready to hatch. This is known as pelagic spawning. The Yellow Tang eggs hatch rather quickly, at around the 22 hour mark.

Can Yellow Tang Breed in Captivity?

Yellow Tangs do not breed in captivity. This is due to the way that they spawn, and their fry develop. There have been some efforts to breed Yellow Tang in captivity by researchers in a hope that they can be captively bred for the aquarium trade. Captive bred Yellow Tangs are appealing to aquarists as they are less likely to introduce harmful diseases or bacteria into the home aquarium.

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Yellow Tang?

It is not very easy to tell juvenile Yellow Tang males from females. It becomes much easier as they mature. At full maturity, the Yellow Tang males will be slightly larger than the Yellow Tang females. The females will become more rounded when they are ready to spawn as well, but the most distinguishing characteristic lies with the males. During spawning they gain a more metallic look to their bodies.

Yellow Tang Tank Mates

Yellow Tang are not considered an aggressive species, but they tend to do their best in a single species setup. They can do well in community aquariums, but you have to be careful to not stress them.

Can Yellow Tang Live Alone?

Yellow Tangs are a fish that prefers to live with others of the same species. They travel together in a loose school, and socialize with one another. If you are placing Yellow Tang in a community setup, a single one should do fine.

Yellow Tang and Blue Tang

It is possible to house different species of Tang fish together successfully as long as they are added into the aquarium at the same time. They will both have equal opportunity to get to know the tank and each other. Both of these species of Tang enjoy the same water parameters and diets.

Yellow Tang and Powder Brown

Both the Yellow Tang and the Powder Brown Tang are able to be housed together as long as both of their needs are being met. It requires a rather large amount of space for a single species of Tang to be housed efficiently, and even more so if you plan on housing more than one.

Yellow Tang and Foxface

Yellow Tangs and Foxfaces both share the same water parameters, and enjoy the same aquarium setups and decor. Both fish are peaceful towards one another, and Foxface has even been known to follow Yellow Tang around in the aquarium. This makes it rather easy to house these two species together.

Yellow Tang and Coral Beauty

It is possible to house these two species of Tang together as long as they are given adequate space. The Coral Beauty is a little more domineering than the Yellow Tang, but the properly set up aquarium will have no trouble housing these two species together.

Yellow Tang and Tomomi Tang

Tomomi Tang can do better in a smaller aquarium, but it is not advisable to add these two species together if you do not have enough room for them.

Yellow Tang and Clownfish

Yellow Tangs can be potentially great tank mates for more other species of passive, reef dwelling fish, and the Clownfish is no exception. If you are planning on housing these two species together, it is important to make sure that they have enough space, and resources so that there are no issues.

Where Can I Find Yellow Tangs For Sale?

If you are looking to purchase Yellow Tang for yourself, you may be able to find them for sale online. Though they do come with a hefty price tag.

Yellow Tang Price

A single Yellow Tang can run you up to $450 or more depending on the size of the fish.

How Much Do Yellow Tangs Cost?

The price of Yellow Tangs are dependent on their size. A smaller, juvenile Yellow Tang will cost less than a larger, more mature Yellow Tang. Their cost is driven up by high demand.

Why Are Yellow Tang So Expensive?

Yellow Tang tend to be more expensive due to high demand and are diminishing in the wild. This makes them more expensive. There are researchers working to breed Yellow Tangs in captivity successfully. This is to help combat the high price, and to keep from introducing wild illnesses into the aquarium. Before the ban on capturing these fish in 2019, you could expect to pay less than $100 for a single Yellow Tang. Now, if you can find them for sale, you will see prices listed as high as $1000. You can expect the price to increase as long as the ban is in effect.

Are Yellow Tang Hard to Get?

With the ban of capturing juvenile Yellow Tang in the wild, it has been increasingly difficult to get your hands on one for your own personal aquarium. If you manage to find them for sale, you can expect a high price tag as well.

Are Yellow Tang Illegal?

As of 2019, it is illegal to capture juvenile Yellow Tangs for the aquarium trade. This has driven the price of these fish quite high.

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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