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
Photo of two fish with rock in background
Yellow tangs in their natural habitat in Kona, Hawaii
The larvae of the yellow tang can drift more than 100 miles and reseed in a distant location.[2]
In a zoo aquarium

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.[3]

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 tang's yellow color.[4]

Yellow tangs are in the surgeonfish family.

Evolution and genetics[edit]

Based on the gene Cytochrome C-oxidase 1 (CO1), a group of researchers was able to reconstruct the phylogenetic tree of the genus Zebrasoma with mitochondrial barcoding sequences. [5]

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. [6] 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. [3]

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. [3]


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. [3]


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 scepticism 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]

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),[3] 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.[3] Hawaii was the most common place for aquarium harvesting, prior to the export ban, where up to 70% of the yellow tangs for the aquarium industry were sourced from.[citation needed] Over 70% of the yellow tang's natural range is protected from collection and fishing.[7] The yellow tang is listed as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).[8]

The yellow tang has been recorded in waters around Florida, where it is not native.[9]

Predators and other threats[edit]

The yellow tang has many natural predators, including larger fish, sharks, crabs, and octopuses. [10][11]  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, as well as overfishing, coral harvesting, [12] and snorkeling, which can potentially cause reef damage.[7]

Conservation status[edit]

Conservation status is labelled as least concern, but there are many ways yellow tang are being protected.  The most prominent is that yellow tangs 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. [13]

In 2010, one study found that fish larvae can drift on ocean currents and reseed fish stocks at a distant location. This finding demonstrated that fish populations can be connected to distant locations through the process of larval drift.[2] They investigated the yellow tang, because larva of this species stay in the general area of the reef in which they first settle.[14] The tropical yellow tang is heavily fished by the aquarium trade. By the late 1990s, their stocks were collapsing. Nine MPAs were established off the coast of Hawaii to protect them. Larval drift has helped them establish themselves in different locations, and the fishery is recovering.[14] "We've clearly shown that fish larvae that were spawned inside marine reserves can drift with currents and replenish fished areas long distances away," said coauthor Mark Hixon.[14]

In the aquarium[edit]

The yellow tang is very commonly kept as a saltwater aquarium fish. In 2015, researchers successfully bred them in captivity.[15] 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.[16]


  1. ^ Abesamis, R.; Choat, J.H.; McIlwain, J.; Clements, K.D.; Myers, R.; Rocha, L.A.; Nanola, C.; Russell, B.; Stockwell, B. (2012). "Zebrasoma flavescens". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012: e.T178015A1521949. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012.RLTS.T178015A1521949.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b Christie, MR; Tissot, BN; Albins, MA; Beets, JP; Jia, Y; Ortiz, DL; Thompson, SE; Hixon, MA (2010). "Larval Connectivity in an Effective Network of Marine Protected Areas". PLOS ONE. 5 (12): e15715. Bibcode:2010PLoSO...515715C. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0015715. PMC 3006342. PMID 21203576.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Zebrasoma flavescens, Yellow tang : aquarium". Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Learn All About the Yellow Tang Fish". The Spruce Pets. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  7. ^ a b Adam J (14 November 2016). "The Truth About Yellow Tang Collecting in Hawaii". Ref Builders | The Reef and Saltwater Aquarium Blog.
  8. ^ 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: e.T178015A1521949. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012.RLTS.T178015A1521949.en.
  9. ^ Schofield PJ, Morris Jr JA (28 January 2015). Field Guide to the Nonindigenous Marine Fishes of Florida. Maroon Ebooks. pp. 6–.
  10. ^ "National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ Zabetakis K. "Zebrasoma flavescens (Lemon sailfin)". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  12. ^ US EPA, OW (2017-01-30). "Threats to Coral Reefs". US EPA. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  13. ^ "YELLOW TANG | Zebrasoma flavescens – Rising Tide Conservation". Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  14. ^ a b c Drifting Fish Larvae Allow Marine Reserves to Rebuild Fisheries ScienceDaily , 26 December 2010.
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ 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. Bibcode:2009CorRe..28...95C. doi:10.1007/s00338-008-0447-7. S2CID 15687424.

External links[edit]