Sailfin Tang: Care | Breeding | Diet |Cost | Complete Care Guide

Once I decided to have a marine reef aquarium, it was easy for me to decide the first species of tang that I introduced in my tank once it was established and all the water parameters were suitable. Of course, it was the colorful Sailfin Tang, as it is one of the prettiest marine reef fishes available to fish keepers around the world.

In this article entitled Sailfin Tang complete care & buyers guide we’ll look at all aspects of keeping this wonderful tang. The Sailfin Tang is a showpiece fish as it can fill your aquarium with color and grace as it swims across your aquarium to the delight of anyone watching. especially with its extended fins which look incredible once opened and put on display for all to see.

It is not very difficult to keep Sailfin Tang in your marine reef aquarium, as it is not expensive to purchase and it’s easier to keep them than you might first think. It is a relatively hardy fish and can adapt to a new environment quickly and can live relatively peacefully with other fish. Sailfin Tang fish are a popular choice with saltwater fish enthusiasts. Here are some important guidelines for providing a healthy environment for these beautiful fish.

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Sailfin Tang has a round-shaped body comprised of a very large tail fin, a high dorsal fin, and a long pointed mouth. The body of the Sailfin Tang is covered with wide light yellow lines and alternating with dark yellow stripes. This pattern is repeated throughout its body including both the dorsal and tail fins. The darker stripes have even more streaks of yellow lines and spots.

It has a large yellow tail fin. Its head is white but has some dark spots. Two dark stripes lined with yellow spots are found near the eye; one of them runs through the eye and the other one is found behind the eye. The general coloring of their body is light beige covered with dark and yellow stripes. If the fish comes under stress, its body color changes from yellow to dark brown. This change in color sometimes repels the predator or allows the fish to hide between the rocks of similar hues.

The young fish looks quite similar to the adult fish except of course being smaller in size, but with more yellow-brown coloring. During this age, they have a medium brown body with bright yellow lines and its fins, tail, and nose are also of bright yellow hue. When the fish changes from the young stage to a fully grown adult, its body changes color to a brownish-olive, and the yellow stripes turn to pale yellow with a bright golden yellow tail.

This species of fish has large teeth, though they are fewer in number as compared to other species in the same genus. One remarkable feature of Sailfin Tang is blade-like structures that are located on both sides of its body. These are scalpels which are sharp as a razor blade. These sharp knife-like structures serve as a defense mechanism and help the fish to ensure its safety.

This is a dangerous weapon that the Sailfin Tang has at its disposal to defend itself from other predators. Normally these blades are not exposed but are folded inside a groove when they are not needed. This is a powerful weapon at its disposal and helps it to survive in the harsh marine environment.

Scientific Name: Zebrasoma velifer
Common NamesSailfin Tang, Eastern sailfin Tang,Pacific sailfin Tang,Purple-lined Tang, Ringed Tang
OriginIndian Ocean,South Pacific
Adult SizeUp to 15 inches
Social Characteristicscalm to semi-aggressive
Lifespan5 to 7 years
Minimum Tank Size75-100 gallon+
Sailfin Tang

Sailfin Tang Characteristics

Sailfin Tangs prefer to swim around most of the time in all the space that it is available to them. It is therefore essential to provide them with a large tank. Not only the Sailfin Tang has a need for space for swimming but they also require space to hide occasionally between rocks and corals, so these are also necessary items that must be arranged in the aquarium.

Such nooks and crannies make ideal places for Sailfin Tang to hide and rest. It also protects them from bigger fish and other bullies in the aquarium. I prefer to have coral skeletons and living rock in my aquarium which provides just the right spots for my Sailfin Tangs to hide.

These fish tend to be very territorial and would jealously guard their own area. Individual SailfinTangs should be provided with their own space. It is better not to keep two or more of these fishes together unless you can provide them with a large sized aquarium that is adequately filled will rock, corals or other decorative material.

These fishes are rather friendly with other fishes but they often tend to attack their own kind. It is difficult to distinguish between the males and the females as they are both quite similar in body color and markings such as stripes and spots, the only real difference is that of the male being larger in size to females.

Perfect Water Conditions Are Vital

Sailfin Tangs need sufficient oxygen in the tank so it should always be properly aerated and some strong movement of water is preferable to them as compared to other species of fish. The water ideally should be kept in the range between 23°C and 28°C whereas the acidity of the water should be kept between a ph of 8.1 and 8.4 while the specific gravity of water should be between 1.020 and 1.025. However, for the fish coming from the waters of the Red Sea, the specific gravity should be kept slightly higher between 1.025 and 1.027.

The Sailfin Tang fish remain close to shallow waters of coral reefs and still lagoons where there is not much wave activity. During the young age, the fishes have a solitary life and they prefer to hide among rocks or corals. As they mature their characteristics change significantly. But often single Sailfin Tang can be seen living happily without the need of a companion. This species is one of the largest members of its genus and can grow up to 15 inches. In the confined space of a tank for an aquarium they do not grow as big but still, they need a large aquarium.

The Sailfin Tang fishes are generally herbivore and do not eat other fish. Their main food is composed of a diet based on microalgae, so make sure that the tank with any Sailfin Tang has a sufficient amount of algae. They will be happy in such an environment merrily eating and thriving on the algae.

Male Sailfin Tangs are normally larger in size as compared their female counterpart, although in other physical appearance they seem to be identical so it is difficult to differentiate between the sexes. Normally, they are peaceful creatures and easily get along with other fish in the tank but they want to be master of their space. They become hostile if a similar species of fish encroach on their space.

Due to their habit of feeding on algae, the algae which accumulate on the corals are cleaned by them so the corals remain healthy. If you have coral in your tank be sure to have Sailfish Tang in it as they keep the coral clean from algae.

Sailfin Tang Habitat

The Sailfin Tang is mostly found close to the shore in seaward reefs and in shallow lagoons skirting the waters of the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and Oceania. In the Pacific, these fish are found in places like northern and southern Japan, Indonesia, the Hawaiian Islands, Rapa Island, the Tuamoto islands, New Caledonia and the southern regions of the Great Barrier Reef.

They normally prefer to live in waters with depths between 3 to 200 feet or even more. The young fish prefer to stay alone and hidden behind small rocks, old corals, and ragged reefs. They prefer those areas that have strong water currents, which many predators avoid. This acts as a safety measure, as Sailfin Tang has a number of enemies ready to devour it. These predators include groupers, lionfish, moray eels, reef sharks and manta rays.

Behavior of a sailfin tang

Sailfin Tangs are active swimmers and they never prefer to stay still. They love their natural environment filled with rocks, corals and reefs. Compared to other fishes of the same genus, Sailfin Tangs are relatively very docile creatures.

Their behavior is quite predictable and they never start a fight with other fishes. However, sometimes they do appear aggressive towards fish of their own species, which is surprising since they are normally quite well behaved with fish of different species.

There is always some movement if you have Sailfin Tang in your aquarium. Most of their time they like to eat the algae stuck to the coral. They will often search for algae even on the nooks and corners of rocks. The only flaw in their character is the strong territorial attitude with other Sailfin Tangs and rarely with fishes of the other species.

If under attack or any other stress situation the Sailfin Tang tends to expand itself to look larger, the fins become extended and they try to look menacing. They change color which is an indication of their stress.

If that does not work, either they will fight or would prefer to swim away from the situation and hide behind some rock or crevice. Sailfin Tang has developed unique survival mechanisms to protect themselves from predators and other fish who want to attack them.

Most remarkable is the development of razor sharp like fins that can injure any predator and deter it quite effectively. If that is not enough, they can emit poisonous secretions to numb and hurt the predators, thereby saving their own lives.

How to take care of a sailfin tang

It is easy to take care of Sailfin Tang as a pet. Once you set up your aquarium with the proper quality of water and arrangements for water movement throughout your aquarium your fish will be happy.

Sailfin Tangs are just like any other saltwater fish and will require regular water changes to maintain a healthy fish. You should change 10 % of the water every 2 weeks or 20 % once a month. Only use RO-DI water which will remove harmful metals and other chemicals out of your tap water. 

You must ensure you give these fish plenty of space, especially for adult fishes, along with a sufficient amount of stones, rocks and, corals with nooks and crevices for them to hide and rest. These materials will also have a cover of algae growth which your Sailfin Tang will enjoy and nibble all day. We use algae strips to provide them with the best nutrients they need to thrive. 

Sailfin Tangs are hardy creatures and once acclimated they will remain healthy for a long time. But you have to ensure that your aquarium completes the nitrogen cycle. You must only add a Sailfin Tang to a tank that has been already been running for at least six months. Be sure to use a test kit to check water specifications before you put your fish into the water.

Sailfin Tangs like to swim most of the time and therefore it is of utmost importance to provide them with a sufficiently large tank. For the young ones, a tank with a capacity of 75-100 gallons of water a minimum. But for mature fish, a 100 gallon+ tank or more is essential. Individual Sailfin Tangs need their own space. It is better not to keep two or more of these fishes together if your tank is of a smaller size.

Normally these fish remain healthy but be sure to protect them from fish diseases such as marine ich. The diseased fish should be transferred to another tank and treated with appropriate medication and only after all the symptoms have gone should they be allowed back into the main tank.

Be careful of poisonous thorns on their body. Handle them with care. If you get wounded it can be quite damaging and must be treated immediately. Always quarantine a new fish in a separate quarantine tank until you are satisfied they are carrying no diseases that will transfer into your established and healthy aquarium. This could potentially wipe out your entire tank.

Sailfin Tang

Life Cycle of the sailfin tang

It will be almost impossible for you to identify the male from the female fish of the Sailfin Tang species. The only apparent difference is that the males are bigger in size as compared to the females. If you are very watchful during the spawning season you might observe the mating ritual and discover which one is male or female, otherwise they all look the same.

For some unknown reasons, the spawning season matches that of the lunar cycles. The males perform a color changing ritual to attract the attention of the females. The males are

polygamous with no apparent bonding with a single female. They mate with multiple females, while the adult females who are fertilized lay eggs only once a month.

In open waters, in the wild, the breeding habits of these fish are not known. But in the confines of the aquarium, it can be observed that they do mate and females spawn eggs. The eggs are scattered around and hatch with no effort on the part of the parents to care for them. The little ones hatch and survive by themselves.

The frail larvae subsist on the egg yolk for the initial three days. But from the fourth day, they start to forage on planktons. As they become more mature their bodies develop a bigger oval shape and protective razor like spines appear on their dorsal and ventral fins. Finally, on maturity, their bodies become round, opaque and colorful. Sailfin Tangs live for about 5 to 7 years in the wild however they may live longer in captive care.

What’s the best food for sailfin tangs?

In the wild Sailfin Tang survive on algae, which they get in plentiful amounts. Since algae is their primary source of nourishment you should ensure that it is available to your fish in the aquarium.

In the aquarium to supplement algae, you should also feed them processed vegetables such as cucumber and other leafy vegetables, dried seaweed and animal proteins such as brine shrimps. Some vitamin C should also be given to these fish to avoid some diseases. Sailfin Tang should be feed 2-3 times a day in small quantities instead of a large once a day feed.

As a basic daily Flake food we feed ours TetraMarine which we find to be a really well balanced flake food.

Sailfin Tangs will eat almost anything that other fish are fed but remember that they are primarily herbivore creatures and their primary food should be seaweed and algae. This diet will improve their immune system against diseases, reduce aggressive behavior and maintain good health.


Sailfin Tangs do not enjoy the company of their own species. Since they have strong territorial instincts, two of them will fight for control of their space. Since they have a lethal weapon in the form razor sharp spur they will often injure each other seriously when they fight. Keep a single Sailfin Tang in one tank otherwise there is a danger of bullying and even having a fatal fight.

Sailfin Tang will not bother invertebrates, although occasionally some might nip clam mantles or polyps. However, they have no problem of living happily with other species of fish as long they are not a predator to them.


The Sailfin Tangs are one of the most beautiful aquarium fish. They are also quite popular with fish enthusiasts as keeping them is relatively easier than some of the other marine aquarium fishes.

I would strongly recommend that you have a Sailfin Tang in your saltwater aquarium. However, care should be taken to protect them from diseases and remember, they should not be reintroduced in the tank until they are completely quarantined. 

I have lept many species of saltwater fish and tangs are still one of the best, watching them swim in large open spaces with their fins open and colors on display looks incredible.

Before you rush out and buy one you must read our article called 30 Fishkeeping Mistakes Beginners Make to avoid making any of the silly mistakes many aquarists make. 

What are you waiting for? Go to your nearest aquarium store and check them out.

Happy fishkeeping Forever!

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