Caring for the Blue Tang

Image Credit: Tewy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Tewy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Caring for the Blue Tang


The Blue Tang is one of the more stunning saltwater aquarium fish in the hobby, and is also one of the more iconic. As with all fish, the Blue Tang, also known as the Hippo Tang, Regal Tang, Palette Surgeonfish, or the Paracanthurus, has unique living requirements that must be met for it to thrive. It’s a rather oval fish that is a brilliantly vibrant blue with a beautiful yellow tail. The movie “Finding Dory” starred the Blue Tang and was voiced by Ellen DeGeneres which spurred much interest in the reef keeping hobby and in particular, the Blue Tang.

Before jumping into purchasing your own you should be well aware of the work involved in caring for this beautiful fish. It’s not the most difficult fish to care for but it also isn’t a fish ideal for beginners.

Blue Tang Quick Facts

  • Aquarist Difficulty Care Level – Medium
  • Reef Compatible
  • Omnivorous although primarily Herbivore
  • Grows to be as much as 1 foot in length
  • Requires at least a 4 feet long aquarium
  • Requires minimum 75 gallon aquarium
  • Prone to skin diseases
  • Likes to have rock work large enough for hiding although is typically very active, hence the massive tank requirements
  • It has sharp teeth used for eating algae on rock work
  • Should be kept alone unless introduced to the tank with one other or a large group at the same time
  • As with all Tangs, it has sharp spines on either side of it’s tail fin for defense
  • It’s dorsal fin also has spines
  • Their spines are venomous
  • Keeping multiple tangs or surgeon fish other than the blue tang will require a much larger tank to prevent aggression

Of all the Tang species, this one is the most active which is why it requires a larger aquarium to thrive. It is generally a very hardy fish despite the above average proneness to ich and other skin diseases. However, ich tends to resolve itself naturally when the fish is living in excellent water quality conditions.

For quite some time the Blue Tang was not able to be bred in captivity. Recently there has been progress made which is good news both for the Blue Tang and for natural coral reefs.

Specific Blue Tang Care Instructions

  • Drip-acclimate to ensure the best possible transition to your aquarium
  • Should be kept in waters between 78°F and 82°F
  • Feed a variety of algae
  • Will eat vitamin-enriched flake food
  • May eat frozen Mysis and other meaty foods
  • Will eat small live food

What is the lifespan of a blue tang?

  • 5-20 years – Many factors determine the age a blue tang will live up to. In ideal conditions, a blue tang can live for 20 years or even more. It’s difficult to maintain ideal conditions though and only the most dedicated aquarium hobbyist is likely to be able to get a blue tang to survive for that long.

What size tank do you need for a blue tang?

  • 100-Gallon/6-Foot Length – Blue tangs can grow to over 12 inches in length which means they need a lot of room. Aquariums over 100 gallons and at least 6 feet in length are highly recommended.

    Also, due to the blue tang being prone to skin diseases, larger water volumes are suggested to help keep water parameters high and fluctuations less dramatic.

Does blue tang eat algae?

  • Yes – Blue tangs are omnivores and will eat meat but they prefer algae.

How often should I feed my blue tang?

  • Twice daily – The metabolism of the blue tang is very fast and requires a lot of sustinance. You can get away with one daily feeding but it is recommended that it be fed twice per day for best results.

Why is my blue tang turning white?

Poor diet is the primary cause of a blue tang losing some of its colors. Their preferred food is algae and other greens. Feeding seaweed often is highly recommended to keep them healthy and colorful.

While blue tang do love algae and seaweed, they are omnivores and should be fed a varied diet that is primarily vegetative but not exclusively.

Is the blue tang endangered?

  • No – Fortunately blue tangs are currently listed as “Least Concern” as of the writing of this article. Hopefully, this will continue to be true!

Are blue tangs reef-safe?

  • Yes – Blue tangs are actually a welcome addition to a reef aquarium. Blue tangs will not pick at corals and will actually help clear away nuisance algae that may grow around and choke out corals.

Can blue tang live with clownfish?

  • Yes – People often want to know if blue tangs and clownfish can coexist since they want to recreate the environment from the movie “Finding Nemo”. The good news is that yes, blue tangs and clownfish do very well together. They aren’t likely to team up on any escapades but they won’t try to eat or kill one another either.

Do yellow tangs and blue tangs get along?

  • No – It is generally not a good idea to keep members of the surgeonfish family together unless specifically a mated pair. They are very aggressive toward other surgeonfish and they can do a lot of damage to each other with their razor-sharp tangs on either side of their rear fin. If you do attempt to house more than one tang in an aquarium you will need to have a very large tank to allow them each their own territory but expect skirmishes.

Do blue tangs play dead?

  • Yes – Interestingly enough, blue tangs do in fact play dead just like Dory did in the film “Finding Nemo”. When predators are near they will lay on their side until the danger appears to be gone. It’s not likely you’ll witness this in an aquarium however since blue tang predators are extremely large and you’re not going to obviously be keeping one in your aquarium with a blue tang.

What eats blue tang?

Large carnivorous fish such as grouper and tuna are common predators of blue tang fish.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy A Blue Tang

  • Advanced Level – Due to blue tangs being prone to several skin diseases and requiring excellent water quality and diet, it isn’t recommended that beginners attempt to own a blue tang.
  • Semi-Aggressive – Blue tangs can be aggressive toward other fish in your aquarium. You will be more limited in what you can house with it.
  • Expensive – Blue tangs are usually one of the more expensive saltwater aquarium fish. It’s not unusual for them to cost more than $100. If you’re new to the saltwater aquarium hobby, purchasing an expensive and difficult to care for fish is likely to lead to a quick death for the fish and frustration for the new hobbyist.
  • Large Tank Only – Due to the fact that these fish can grow to over 1 foot in length you will need a rather large aquarium. Tanks that are 6 feet in length are suggested and this is typically well over the 100-gallon mark.

In Conclusion

We hope that you’ve learned a lot about this wonderful fish. If you’re still considering owning one, you should now be much better prepared for success.

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