The Purple Tang fish, or the Yellowtail Sailfin Tang, is not just beautiful, but it’s also one of the toughest surgeonfish you can keep in your aquarium!
The Purple Tang or Yellowtail Tang makes a perfect addition to any large aquarium thanks in part to its gorgeous purple body and yellow tail. After acclimating to their new environment the purple tang will prove to be tough and resistant to disease.
- Experience Level: Intermediate to Advanced
- Hardiness: Moderate
- Minimum Tank Size: 100 G (380 L)
- Maximum Size: 10 in (25 cm)
- Temperament: Semi Aggressive
- Temperature: 74°F – 82°F (24°C – 28°C)
- pH Range: 8.1 – 8.4
- Water Hardness: 8 – 12 dKH
- Gravity: 1.021 -1.025
- Diet: Herbivore
Table of Contents
Breeding and Social
The purple tang is also relatively easy to care for as long as you feed it properly and keep the water quality high. The downside is that it can be rare and expensive. The purple tang that you buy is also likely going to be an adult, which means it takes longer to acclimate. All in all, this is the perfect prize for the experience hobbyist who has money to spare.
Purple Tang fish are very agile and have a good size you need to give them plenty of space they can swim around in along with rocks and corals with crevices that they can use to hide or sleep in. While the purple tang can get along in a community it can sometimes be aggressive and territorial to any new additions the older it gets. Only ever keep one purple tang in an aquarium because they don’t mix very well with others of their genus.
Like any other Zebrasoma fish it is pretty robust but can suffer from Lateral Line Disease (LLD) if you don’t properly maintain the tank or its diet. The tang needs nutritious food and lots of water to get enough oxygen, along with regular water changes and good filtration. The Purple Tang fits perfectly into a reef environment because it enjoys picking away at algae. The species has also been shown to nip at larger polyp stony corals at times. To sum everything up you need to keep a watchful eye on the environment, diet, and behavior of your purple tang.
The purple tang fish has a body shaped like a disk, much like any other surgeonfish, but they have a giant dorsal and anal fins. When this sailfin tang fully extends its fins then their height is about the same as their length. The Purple Tang also has a slightly extended snout similar to other sailfin tangs. Their body is as purple as their name suggests, along with their yellow caudal fin. The Purple Tang also has black spots on their heads and the front of their body, reaching to the adjacent fins. The rest of their body and fins are covered with black horizontal lines except for the caudal fin. The pectoral fins have a yellow accent to their edges.
Each side of the caudal peduncle has a spine, or “scalpel” on it that gives the surgeonfish its name and is used for attacking and defending. When the fish isn’t using this spin it is folded down and housed in a groove. You should be careful when handling a surgeonfish as they could cut you. A cut from the scalpel causes welling and discomfort in the skin and is likely to be infected. The pain can last for a few hours and, even when it subsides, will still be a dull ache for a while.
Adult purple tangs can reach lengths of up to 10in (25cm) but fish kept in captivity don’t grow as much and only grow to up to 8.7 inches (22cm).
Because tangs and surgeonfish are such swift swimmers they need plenty of open spaces. They also need rocks and corals with crevices. These give them security as they can hide in them or use them for sleeping at night. It shouldn’t bother your invertebrates or corals too much but it will graze on algae. This makes them a good addition to a reef environment. Just keep the corals in the tank glued down because they can knock over corals with their high speeds. They do best when kept in a tank with algae growth.
Purple Tang Aquarium Guide
- Minimum Tank Size: 100 G (380 L)
- pH Range: 8.1 – 8.5
- Carbonate Hardness: 8 – 12° dKH
- Temperature: 74°F – 82°F (24°C – 28°C)
- Gravity : 1.021 – 1.025
- Lighting: Any.
- Substrate: Fine, light substrate.
- Water Flow: Moderate to high
- Tank Region: All tank regions
Purple Tangs make great additions to aquariums. They are generally quite easy to keep as long as you maintain their diet and environment. It is a hardy fish that is resistant to disease but still vulnerable to Lateral Line Disease (LLD) if you don’t properly maintain its diet and environment. The good news is that it, along with the other Zebrasoma species, will respond well to medication if it falls ill. As long as the environment of the tang is consistent in terms of quality, water condition, décor, and even tankmates then your tang will live a long and happy life. You can house your Tang is a fish only tank or keep it in a reef environment. Just keep in mind that they may occasionally nip at large polyp stony corals.
There are some members of the Acanthuridae family that are more delicate and require special care, but even these fish will do well if they are afforded some technical considerations. All surgeonfish belong in a tank with plenty of room, especially for adults, and plenty of rocks/corals that have crevices they can hide and sleep in. This kind of décor also leads to the growth of algae that the surgeonfish will enjoy grazing on. This is why they will do so well in a reef environment.
Surgeonfish and tangs alike enjoy eating continuously and so they do best when given a proper diet. They need proper nutrition because they can easily suffer from nutritional disorders that cause them to lose their color and suffer from LLD (lateral line disease). You can supplement their diet with vitamin C or just add the supplement directly to the water to help reduce the chances of a nutritional deficiency. The Purple Tang is also susceptible to bacteria that build up organically and contaminate the water. As such they need proper filtration, protein skimming, and you should change a portion of their water on a regular basis.
Many members of the Acanthuridae family are bright and colorful active fish that attract hobbyists. As great as they are they don’t produce the same levels of the skin mucus that coats their bodies as other fish do. This is why they can be susceptible to certain diseases including Marine Ich and Marine Velvet. When you first receive your surgeonfish you should consider quarantining them at first. You can use medical treatments or copper drugs to treat these diseases successfully, but it’s not recommended to give them copper medication for too long. This is because of the precious microfauna contained in their digestive systems.
When the Tang lives in the wild it will be kept clean of parasites by the cleaner wrasse (Labroides sp.). Unfortunately it’s difficult to maintain a wrasse in captivity. You can use other fish to keep the Tang clean including Neon Gobies (Gobiosoma spp.) or cleaner shrimp.
The diseases that surgeonfish and Tangs are susceptible to include Marine Ich (white spot disease), Marine Velvet, and Lateral Line Erosion (LLE).
Purple Tang fish are primarily herbivores. Even so you’ll find yours will eat more meaty foods than other Zebrasoma fish will. Wild Tangs will eat mostly micro and macro algae, but they will also eat protein rich foods including fish eggs and small invertebrates. Because the Purple Tang is able to store fat they can go a while without eating.
The Purple Tang in your aquarium will mostly eat vegetable matter but you should give them a bit of meaty food. Give your Tang lots of marine algae, along with prepared frozen formulas that contain algae and spirulina, frozen brine and myriad shrimp. They will also eat flake foods. You can use a vegetable clip to attach Japanese Nori or other seaweed to the aquarium glass. The Tangs will also appreciate having a few live rocks with micro and macro organisms. Try to cultivate macro algae like chaetomorphia in the tank. They should be fed three times a day in small amounts rather than one large meal. They enjoy continuously grazing and so will benefit from this style of feeding. It also helps to preserve the quality of the water for longer.
Giving your Purple Tang fish a vitamin supplement such as Vitamin C can help to protect them against nutrient deficiencies such as Lateral Line Erosion. You can add vitamin C to their diet by soaking dried food pellets in liquid vitamins, by adding vitamins directly to the food, or by putting some liquid vitamins into their water. Some aquarists also believe that soaking food pellets in garlic can keep Marine Ich at bay. Other hobbyists also report that they have had success feeding their Purple Tang supplemental foods including once-boiled or frozen zucchini, broccoli, spinach and leaves of lettuce.
Purple Tang Feeding Guide
- Diet: Herbivore
- Frequency: 2 – 3 times daily
- Pellet Foods: Preferably not unless specific to Tangs
- Flake Foods: Preferably not
- Live Foods: Yes, will take small crustaceans, brine and mysis
- Meat Foods: Preferably from tank supply of micro/macro organisms
- Vegetable Foods: Dark leafy greens, seaweed such as nori, spirulina, and algae
There is generally no noticeable differences between sexes in the Zebrasoma species. The two small differences with the Purple Tang is that the male is generally larger than the female and it will change color when spawning.
So far the Purple Tang has yet to be bred in captivity. There are some surgeonfish species that have spawned in public aquariums, and there are some people who have reported success in home aquariums, but no one is yet to report regular spawning or rearing young.
One of the best things about Purple Tang fish is that they enjoy grazing on algae, making them a great piece of any reef environment. You do need to keep an eye on them however as they sometimes nip on polyp stony corals. You can make them part of a large community tank of just fish because they do get on well with other tank mates as long as they aren’t part of the same genus. As they get older they do get a little cantankerous though. They might begin bullying other fish and reacting badly to any new additions.
The Purple Tang can be a territorial fish; mostly with their own kind but also sometimes with other species. You’ll almost always have a problem trying to introduce a new surgeonfish into a tank that already contains one. You should try and add all the fish to the tank at the same time instead of introducing one at a later date. Getting a bigger aquarium can solve some of these problems but you should always keep in mind the way that any fish you’re considering behaves around other fish.
You could achieve some success pairing a Purple Tang with a different genus if there are no similarities between the two fish. If you wanted to mix different Tangs up without sparking a fight you could mix a Naso Tang, Yellow Tang, and a Hippo Tang; especially if you add them all at the same time. If you want to make the transition easier you can adjust the rock work. There may be some chasing but for the most part it’s just playful and not malicious.