Yellow Tang Profile and Information

A Favorite Fish in Saltwater Aquariums

Yellow tang tropical fish with coral backdrop
Yellow Tang. Rich Lewis/Moment/Getty Images

The Yellow Tang is one of the most popular fish in a saltwater aquarium. Their bright yellow colors and easy nature with other fish make them an easy choice for beginning aquarists.

A vast majority of the Yellow Tangs collected for aquarium use are harvested from the Kona (west) Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii. The easterly currents that flow up the west side of the Big Island from the nutrient rich depths of the Pacific Ocean provide the perfect environment for breeding and growing this pelagic fish.

Harvesting the Yellow Tang is actually quite fun. During its earlier years, this fish prefers the company of other Yellow Tangs and has a tendency to follow other Yellow Tangs and can actually be herded like sheep under the right conditions. They prefer to reside in Staghorn Coral fields at depths above 50' where they can find easy cover from predators and plenty of easy access to Green Algae which is their preferred food.

Scientific Name

Zebrasoma flavescens (Bennett, 1828).

Other Common Names

Yellow Surgeonfish, Yellow Hawaiian Tang.


Even though this species is considered endemic to Hawaiian waters, its distribution extends from the Hawaiian area, including Johnston Island, westward through the northern Marshall Islands to Wake, Marcus, Guam, and other Marianas Islands.


Yellow oval body with a nocturnal horizontal white stripe.

Maximum Size

To 8".

Characteristics & Compatibility

The habitat of this fish is from inside the reef out to depths of 100 feet or more.

The larger specimens seem to stay in the shallow waters near the reef, while the juveniles usually prefer the deeper waters where finger corals are present.

In general, this fish does get along well with other fishes in an aquarium, but it can be aggressive towards other Yellows and Surgeonfishes if they are not introduced into the aquarium at the same time.

If your tank size will allow you to include several of these fish, you will be entertained by their lazy "follow the leader" patterns in and through live rock arrangements.

Diet & Feeding

This fish is a herbivore, grazing on algae and other plant life. It is best kept in an aquarium that has good algae growth, where in turn they earn their keep by helping to keep the algae growth cropped. It will feed on Nori (dried or roasted seaweed), other green vegetable matter and vitamin enriched flakes, but may nibble at dried shrimp and other meaty fares as well. Using a lettuce clip or placing the Nori under a rock or piece of coral. This mimics its natural feeding habits. In the wild, its lifestyle is one of a constant cruising and grazing.

Minimum Tank Size

55 gallon.

Reef Tank Suitable


Guide Notes

We give the Yellow Tang a ** (Two Star) Care Rating Level. It is a hardy, strong fish and is fairly easy to care for. However, it is a fish that is prone to contracting saltwater Ich diseases (Whitespot forms and Blackspot) and possibly HLLE (head and lateral line erosion). The Ich factor makes it a less than ideal choice for a beginner just starting or cycling a tank ​because stress is greatly related to these diseases.

Use caution when handling this fish as the white razor spur near the tail area is very sharp and can cause cuts or injury. To learn more about the characteristics and traits of Tangs & Surgeonfishes, refer our Tang & Surgeonfish Family Profile.