15 Types of Tangs for Reef Tanks

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Tangs are beautiful reef animals with a lot of personalities and a colorful presence. They are highly praised in the aquarium trade for their lush temperaments and beauty, but also for their algae-grazing capabilities.

If you’re not familiar with tangs or surgeonfish in general, here are a few headlines to put you up to speed:

  • Tangs require a lot of swimming space; a 12-inch tang needs at least 100 gallons for itself
  • Tangs are generally peaceful with other fish, but they can get territorial and violent, especially when there’s not enough food available
  • These fish eat a lot, mostly 3 times per day, in addition to their regular algae grazing; this is due to their high metabolic rates
  • You cannot house multiple species of tangs or surgeonfish in the same environment because they will display extreme aggression towards one another
  • Tangs are sensitive to skin problems and parasites, so they require impeccable water conditions to remain healthy

Now that you have the basics plugged in, let’s look into 15 of the most widespread tang species to consider for your tank.

Keep in mind, that some species may have different requirements than others even though they’re all tangs.

1. Yellow Tang

This one is a staple in the tang world thanks to its simplicity and adaptability. Yellow tangs grow up to 8 inches but require a lot more space, even for tang.

You need at least 125 gallons to house one in optimal conditions, as these fish are exceedingly energetic.

The fish is full yellow with no other color inflexions or patterns visible. The body is rounder than other types of tangs, with a protruding snout and rounded fins.

This is the typical tang appearance, imbuing the yellow tang with a more classic surgeonfish look.

Interesting Facts

You can keep the yellow tang in larger tang schools, but only with other yellow tangs.

Don’t house the fish with other tang species or surgeonfish, not to trigger the tang’s aggressive tendencies.

2. Gem Tang

The gem tang is lesser known than other tang species, but it definitely stands out thanks to its unique appearance.

The gem tang grows up to 9 inches and may require at least 180 gallons of swimming space. This is why many aquarists avoid it.

Even so, the fish’s beauty and unique presence are undeniable. The gem tang doesn’t look like your typical surgeonfish.

It has an oval-shaped, and elongated body with a dark blue background color and white or yellow spots painted over the entire body. The tail is mostly yellow, and so are the pectoral fins.

Interesting Facts

Gem tangs like to live solitary lives, so don’t force them to live in a community. It’s also worth noting that these tangs are rare and expensive, so you might have difficulties acquiring them.

The main reason for that is their inability to breed in captivity.

3. Sailfin Tang

The sailfin tang definitely ranks among the most exhilarating tang species you can find. This fish can reach an outstanding 16-inch length and require 180 gallons minimum for optimal comfort.

These fish are most widely spread throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans and are generally more peaceful than other tang species.

The sailfin’s appearance is both unique and exotic. You have the typical tang body with a protruding snout, but it’s the fins that make the difference.

The fish’s dorsal and anal fins are obscenely large, causing the fish to resemble a sailboat. Hence, the name.

Sailfin tangs don’t have a background color but rely on a striped pattern. Their bodies showcase a mix of white, yellow, and blue vertical stripes with a more intricate fin pattern and spotted tails.

The head is generally white with blue spots and dark blue stripes. This one is a truly colorful presence.

Interesting Facts

These tangs don’t breed in captivity, so they’re more expensive than other tang species.

Depending on the specimen, a 2-3-inch sailfin tank goes for $60-$80, while larger fish, around 7-8 inches, can easily reach $170.

4. Black Tang

The black tang is another one you may not be familiar with. This specimen grows up to 9 inches and requires as much as 180 gallons of space.

Black tangs aren’t exactly black, but more like a mix of black, grey, and subtle dark green.

The thing that they stand out for the most is their extremely prolonged snout, allowing them to access areas inaccessible to other tang species.

This one is a must-have in an intricate reef tank with a lot of crevices and caves to explore for food.

Interesting Facts

The black tang also doesn’t breed in captivity and can display varying levels of aggression. It should be the only tang living in the tank to prevent aggression, but you can house it with other fish species.

You should handpick its tankmates carefully to prevent food competition and bullying.

5. Kole Tang

Kole tangs are less demanding than other species thanks to their smaller size and more manageable behavior. These fish can grow to 7 inches and only need around 70 gallons of water as a minimal threshold.

You can easily distinguish the Kole from other tang species thanks to its colorful and unique appearance.

Kole tangs are generally dark purple, with spotted heads and bodies traversed by horizontal stripes.

They also have yellow circles around the eyes, which is their most recognizable feature, along with the subtle yellow hues at the tip of their fins.

Other Kole tangs showcase different colors, like dark orange or dark red, but they always retain a similar pattern.

Interesting Facts

Kole tangs rank among the most effective algae cleaners in the tang world.

While most tangs have omnivorous diets, this species requires a more herbivorous-leaned diet plan for optimal nutrient intake.

6. Blue Tang

If blue tang sounds too bland and generic, try Dory fish. This fish got its name from the famous Finding Nemo animation movie, where Dory was played by a forgetful and cute blue tang.

It’s, then, understandable why blue tangs are so popular.

The fish can grow up to 12 inches, requires at least 125 gallons of water, and displays an oval-shaped body with a bulkier composition.

Blue tangs lack the trademark protruding beak as they showcase a rounder head with a short snout.

The fish is bright blue with a black pattern and yellow tail. The fins are smaller than in other tang species.

Interesting Facts

Blue tangs are especially sensitive to unfit water conditions, making them more prone to ich and other skin parasites. It also doesn’t help that inexperienced aquarists are fooled by the fish’s juvenile size.

So, they house the blue tang in exceedingly small aquariums, only for the fish to outgrow its habitat within the first year of life.

7.  Powder Blue Tang

Powder blue tang is a variation of the blue tang. They grow smaller, up to 9 inches, but showcase a more colorful appearance with a distinct pattern that separates them from the standard blue tang.

The fish’s body is light blue with a dark-blue head and a white neck collar.

The ventral and anal fins are white, while the ventral fin is bright yellow. The tail is a mix of yellow, black, and white.

Body shape-wise, powder blue tangs are similar to blue tangs with a compact structure and a short snout. These fish require at least 125 gallons to thrive.

Interesting Facts

Interestingly enough, powder blue tangs can live either solo or in large groups of at least 7-8 individuals.

You can’t keep them in pairs or small groups because the fish exhibits extensive territorial and aggressive behavior.

8. Clown Tang

The clown tang is more of a hardcore entry than anything else. This one is for more experienced tang keepers, as clown tangs are no joke.

These fish can grow to 15 inches and require approximately 250 gallons of water per fish.

Combine this with the difficulty of care, and you can see why clown tangs aren’t exactly the tip of the spear in the aquarium trade.

Otherwise, the fish is quite the gorgeous presence in a lush reef environment. Clown tangs have almost perfect oval-shaped bodies with a blue belly and a lot of horizontal blue and yellow stripes.

They have minute fins and a round and compact snout, making the fish look more like a torpedo more than anything else.

Interesting Facts

Clown tangs enjoy living in larger groups in the wild which makes for a scary prospect for anyone looking to build a clown tang community. A 1,000 gallons tank looks quite small when you think about it. 

Interestingly enough, these fish also like to eat crustaceans occasionally, aside from their regular algae and plant matter.

So, you should feed your clown tang a more varied, omnivorous diet for optimal nutrient intake.

9. Naso Tang

Since we’re on a ‘giant tang’ roll, we might also discuss the naso tang. This is nothing short of a marine monster, growing up to 18 inches and requiring approximately 200 gallons.

(Un)fortunately, the fish rarely reaches these sizes in captivity, so you’ll mostly get it to 15 inches in optimal conditions.

Naso tangs are bulky and powerful, with an oval-shaped body and an interesting color gradient.

The fish displays a subtle gradient starting with grey near the dorsal fin area and ending with a light yellow on the belly.

The head and tail showcase yellow patterns that are similar among all naso tangs.

Interesting Facts

These fish don’t breed in captivity, and they’re difficult to harvest in the wild and import in the US, especially from Hawaii.

10. Unicorn Tang

The unicorn tang is definitely this list’s most eccentric and unique entry. This fish is a combination of beauty and blunt size that few other species have been able to attain. 

Unicorn tangs can grow up to 24 inches and require at least 300 gallons. Many aquarists go for 360 gallons or more just to be safe.

Needless to say, this makes the unicorn tang extremely difficult to maintain, which is why I can’t recommend it to beginners or even moderately-experienced fish keepers. You need to be a pro for this one.

The unicorn tang has a tang-specific oval-shaped body with a protruding snout and visible muscle insertions. But the fish’s most prominent feature is the trademark horn growing from its forehead when the fish reaches adulthood.

This doesn’t make the tang look like a unicorn but more like a swordfish’s fat, redneck cousin.

But I understand why they called it the Unicorn tang and not the Redneck Swordfish Cousin tang.

Interesting Facts

Unicorn tangs are actually not recommended for home settings. They’re more fitting for public aquariums due to their need for obscene gallon requirements and the extreme care and maintenance necessary.

11. Achilles Tang

Enough with the whale-sized tangs, let’s go for a more manageable species. Achilles tangs grow up to 10 inches and require at least 150 gallons at their disposal.

These are beautiful but demanding fish that require specialized care and pristine water conditions.

Your typical Achilles tang is long and oval-shaped with a purple background color and a distinct yellow spot near the tail. This species is notoriously difficult to keep due to its extreme sensitivity to water conditions and volatile behaviors.

They rank as semi-aggressive against most fish species and extremely aggressive, deadly even, against other Acanthurus species.

Interesting Facts

These tangs are only fit for professionals with vast experience in tang maintenance. Achilles tangs are only fit for matured tanks-only due to their high sensitivity to ammonia and susceptibility to skin parasites. 

Make sure you have a powerful filtration system and top-notch aerating to keep the tang’s habitat well-oxygenated and clean.

12. Purple Tang

This one is far more manageable in terms of care and long-term maintenance. Purple tangs grow up to 9 inches and need around 125 gallons of water for a proper setup. 

Appearance-wise, these tangs can be best described as purple sailfin tangs. They, too, showcase that round, slightly elongated body with a protruding nose and large and flashy fins.

They undoubtedly make for quite the reef presence thanks to their bright-purple bodies and flashy yellow tails.

Interesting Facts

You should keep these fish solo which is unusual given that the purple tang tends to live in groups in the wild. In captivity, though, it cannot stand the presence of other purple tangs, or any tang for that matter.

13. Tomini Tang

Tomini tangs are the smallest on this list so far. They can only reach 6 inches in length and showcase a very untang-like body.

They have longer tale lobes than most other tang species and showcase a compact body with long dorsal and anal fins.

Make sure that the tomini tang has at least 70 gallons of water available. This lower water volume allows you to keep multiple tomini tangs or introduce them to a thriving fish community.

Interesting Facts

Tomini tangs are more peaceful than other species, so they can adapt to a community setup easier.

They’re also great algae grazers, making for fine additions to any reef-oriented habitat.

14. Orange Shoulder Tang

Orange shoulder tangs are more unique and exhilarating than the name suggests. This fish can reach 14 inches and require approximately 150 gallons of water to remain healthy and stable in its ecosystem.

Orange shoulder tangs rank as omnivorous, semi-aggressive fish and they’re moderate in terms of care needs.

This fish is also semi-reef-safe, so you should monitor its activity to make sure it doesn’t nip corals.

You can include it in a community setup, provided you have sufficient space for the tang.

Interesting Facts

Orange shoulder tangs change color as they mature, which makes them so popular in the aquarium trade. The typical orange shoulder tang is light brown or yellow with an orange or red patch behind the gills, near the head.

The adult takes on a more olive-brown coloring with blue highlights around the fins.

15. Convict Tang

We couldn’t have completed this list without mentioning the convict tang. This tang can grow up to 8 inches and require around 100 gallons to remain comfortable and healthy long-term. 

Appearance-wise, few fish are more recognizable than the convict tang. This fish comes with a white body with 5 black vertical stripes, 2 of which traverse the head.

The body is longer and more athletic than what you’re used to with other tang species. Everything else is bright white for a simple but flashy look.

Interesting Facts

Convict tangs make for great community fish, despite their ominous name. These tangs are generally peaceful, so long as you don’t pair them with other tangs. 

Conclusion

We’ve only discussed 15 types of tangs today, but keep in mind that there are many more species to consider.

The Acanthuridae family contains 75 different species of tangs, so there’s plenty of fish in the sea if you know what I mean.

Just keep in mind that tangs are quite pretentious creatures, so they’re not exactly fit for a novice aquarist.

If you have the experience necessary, though, tangs make for astounding additions to any reef setup.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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