Yellow tang

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Yellow tang
Zebrasoma flavescens Luc Viatour.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Acanthuriformes
Family: Acanthuridae
Genus: Zebrasoma
Z. flavescens
Binomial name
Zebrasoma flavescens
  • Zebrasoma rhombeum Bishop

The yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) is a saltwater fish species of the family Acanthuridae. It is one of the most popular marine aquarium fish. It is bright yellow in color, and it lives in reefs.  The yellow tang spawn around a full moon.  The yellow tang eats algae. The yellow tang has a white barb, located just before the tail fin, to protect itself.[1]

Taxonomy and Etymology[edit]

The yellow tang was first described by English naturalist Edward Turner Bennett as Acanthurus flavescens in 1828 from a collection in the Hawaiian Islands. Zebrasoma refers to the body and the zebra-like stripes or bars on the body of other fish in the genus. Its species name is the Latin adjective flavescens which refers to the "yellow" color of the yellow tang.[2]

Yellow tang are in the surgeonfish family.

Evolution and Genetics[edit]

Based on the gene cytochrome c oxidase 1 (CO1) Bernardi, et al were able to reconstruct the phylogenetic tree of the genus Zebrasoma. During the study Bernardi, et al conducted, mitochondrial barcoding sequences were used to reconstruct a phylogenetic tree. [3]

Description and Biology[edit]

Adult fish can grow to 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in length, and 1–2 centimetres (0.39–0.79 in) in thickness. Adult males tend to be larger than females. Yellow tangs are bright yellow in color. At night, the yellow coloring fades slightly, and a prominent brownish patch develops in the middle with a horizontal white band. They rapidly regain their bright yellow color during daylight. They can be aggressive, are prone to marine ich, and may damage coral within a reef tank. Male and female yellow tang look very similar. When mating, however, males change color and have a "shimmering" behavior which makes them identifiable. [4] The yellow tang has 5 dorsal spines along with 23-26 dorsal soft rays.  The yellow tang also has 3 anal spines as well as 19-22 anal soft rays.  There is a white spine on its caudal peduncle that it can use for defense.  Its snout is moderately protruding.  Its mouth is small with spatulate teeth that are place classed relatively close together inside of the yellow tang’s mouth.  In juveniles, there are 12 upper and 14 lower teeth.  In adults, there are 18 upper and 22 lower teeth. [1]

The yellow tang is a marine fish that lives in reefs. The yellow tang is found by itself or in very small groups / schools. The yellow tang is mainly herbivorous and eats filamentous algae. [1]


Spawning happens throughout the year, and it peaks once. Spawning normally happens around the time the moon is full, so this suggests there is some sort of lunar periodicity going on. Spawning happens in pairs or groups, and fertilization is external. Eggs are left in open water and yellow tang are substratum egg scatterers. Yellow tang do not guard their eggs, and once the eggs hatch the juveniles receive no parental care. [1]


In the wild, yellow tangs feed on benthic turf algae and other marine plant material. In captivity they are commonly fed meat/fish based aquarium food, but the long term health effects of this diet are questionable. However, most experts in the marine aquarium industry express little skepticism that such a well rounded and balanced diet including plant and animal material would be in any way detrimental to mostly herbivorous fishes like tangs, since they still need on occasion, complex amino acids and nutrients that only ocean animals can provide. In the wild, yellow tangs provide cleaner services to marine turtles, by removing algal growth from their shells.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Photo of two fish with rock in background
Yellow tangs in their natural habitat in Kona, Hawaii

It is commonly found in shallow reefs, from 2–46 metres (6.6–150.9 ft) deep, in the Pacific Ocean (Ryukyu, Mariana, Marshall, Marcus, Wake, and Hawaiian islands),[1] west of Hawaii and east of Japan. There have also been reports that they have been found off the coast of Florida in the Western Central Atlantic. Their habitat is tropical with a temperature range of 24-28 degrees Celsius.[1] Hawaii is the most common place for aquarium harvesting, where up to 70% of the yellow tangs for the aquarium industry are sourced from.[5] Over 70% of the yellow tang's natural range is protected from collection and fishing.[6] The yellow tang is listed as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).[7]

The yellow tang has been recorded in waters around Florida, where it is not native.[8]

Predators and Other Threats[edit]

The yellow tang has many natural predators including larger fish, sharks, crabs, and octopi. [9][10]  Another threat is habitat destruction that is caused by humans.  Examples of habitat destruction caused by humans are pollution that started on land and flows into the water, physical damage and destruction from harmful fishing practices, dredging, quarrying, etc., overfishing, coral harvesting, [11] and snorkeling can cause damage and disrupt the yellow tang when people go visit coral reefs.[6]

Conservation Status[edit]

Conservation status is labeled as least concern, but there are many ways yellow tang are being protected.  The most prominent is that yellow tang are being bred in captivity for aquarium use now more than they were, so collecting yellow tang from the ocean has decreased sharply.  This allows wild yellow tang to be able to thrive without too many being taken, so the species is more likely to survive. [12]

In the aquarium[edit]

In a zoo aquarium

The yellow tang is very commonly kept as a saltwater aquarium fish. In 2015, researchers successfully bred them in captivity.[13] Captive-bred yellow tangs are now routinely available for purchase at fish stores and online vendors. They can grow up to 8 inches (20 cm) in the wild, but are introduced to aquariums in the 2" to 4" range. Some specimens as large as 6" are occasionally available. Life expectancy in the wild can exceed 30 years.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Zebrasoma flavescens, Yellow tang : aquarium". Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  3. ^ Bernardi G, Nelson P, Paddack M, Rulmal J, Crane N (September 2018). "Genomic islands of divergence in the Yellow Tang and the Brushtail Tang Surgeonfishes". Ecology and Evolution. 8 (17): 8676–8685. doi:10.1002/ece3.4417. PMC 6157655. PMID 30271536.
  4. ^ "Learn All About the Yellow Tang Fish". The Spruce Pets. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  5. ^ Needs citation
  6. ^ a b Adam J (14 November 2016). "The Truth About Yellow Tang Collecting in Hawaii". Ref Builders | The Reef and Saltwater Aquarium Blog.
  7. ^ McIlwain J, Choat JH, Abesamis R, Clements KD, Myers R, Nanola C, Rocha LA, Russell B, Stockwell B (2012). "Zebrasoma flavescens. (Yellow Tang)". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. p. e.T178015A1521949. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012.RLTS.T178015A1521949.en.
  8. ^ Schofield PJ, Morris Jr JA (28 January 2015). Field Guide to the Nonindigenous Marine Fishes of Florida. Maroon Ebooks. pp. 6–.
  9. ^ "National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland".
  10. ^ Zabetakis K. "Zebrasoma flavescens (Lemon sailfin)". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  11. ^ US EPA, OW (2017-01-30). "Threats to Coral Reefs". US EPA. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  12. ^ "YELLOW TANG | Zebrasoma flavescens – Rising Tide Conservation". Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  13. ^ "Yellow tangs finally captive bred by the Oceanic Institute Captive bred, Hawaii, News, Places, Saltwater Fish, Surgeonfish, United States, yellow tang Reef Builders". Reef Builders | The Reef and Marine Aquarium Blog. 2015-10-20. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  14. ^ Claisse JT, McTee SA, Parrish JD (March 2009). "Effects of age, size, and density on natural survival for an important coral reef fishery species, yellow tang, Zebrasoma flavescens". Coral Reefs. 28 (1): 95–105. doi:10.1007/s00338-008-0447-7.

In popular culture[edit]

A yellow tang fish named Bubbles was voiced by (Stephen Root) appears in the 2003 Disney/Pixar animated film Finding Nemo and its 2016 sequel Finding Dory.

External links[edit]