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Last updated: February 17, 2021
Verified by: IMP
Image Credit Nantawat Chotsuwan/Shutterstock.com

The tang has a sharp spine to defend itself

Tang Scientific Classification


Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Tang Conservation Status

Tang Locations

Tang Locations

Tang Facts

Main Prey
Plankton, algae, and sometimes meat
Group Behavior
  • School
Fun Fact
The tang has a sharp spine to defend itself
Biggest Threat
Loss of coral reefs
Most Distinctive Feature
The brightly colored body
Distinctive Feature
Pointed snout and razor-sharp scalpel at the base of their tail
Other Name(s)
Surgeonfish or unicornfish
Gestation Period
A day or two
Coral reefs and open ocean
Groupers, tuna, snappers, and barracuda
Favorite Food
Ray-finned fish
Common Name
Number Of Species
Average Clutch Size
Found around shallow coral reefs!

Tang Physical Characteristics

  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
  • Orange
  • Purple
  • Silver
  • Black-Brown
Skin Type
Up to 30 years
Up to 1 or 2 pounds
Up to 3 feet

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View all of the Tang images!

The Tang fish is highly sought after by aquarium owners all over the world.

With its brightly colored body and stark patterns, it makes for an incredibly vivid display in the home. The tang fish is well-adapted for its natural habitat in the coral reefs. This can make it a little difficult to keep in an artificial environment. But for those with the budget and inclination to take care of its needs, the tang is a very rewarding aquarium fish.

An Incredible Fish: 3 Tang Facts!

  • Tang fish prefer to travel and feed together in large schools, perhaps as a means of overwhelming other fish that jealously protect algae spots.
  • Some species have the ability to lie motionless and “play dead” until a predator passes.
  • The tang’s bright colors come from special crystalline cells in the skin. Some tang can modify their colors based on environmental conditions: for example, when they’re stressed.

Tang Classification and Scientific Name

The tang is a family of fish that goes by the scientific name of Acanthuridae. This is derived from the Greek words akantha and oura, which roughly translate to thorn and tail. It belongs to the order of Perciformes, one of the most diverse animal orders in the world.

Tang Species

There are some 75 species in the family of Acanthuridae, plus many more extinct types known from the fossil record. Many of them go by the name of surgeonfish or unicorn fish, but there isn’t much to distinguish these types from the tang.

  • Blue Tang: Also known as the regal blue tang, the hippo tang, and many other names, this species lives in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It has a remarkable bright blue color with a yellow tail and black markings. The character of Dory from the movie Finding Nemo is a blue tang.
  • Yellow Tang: This species has an all-yellow body and a narrow “nose.” It is one of the most popular aquarium fish in the world.
  • Convict Tang: With its white body (fading to yellow near the back) and black stripes, it’s easy to see why this species got its name.
  • Red Sea Sailfin Tang: The sailfin is aptly named. The highly elevated dorsal and anal fins have the appearance of gigantic sails. The sailfin’s blue body is also covered with dark blue bands and yellow-orange stripes and spots.
  • Clown Surgeonfish: Also known as the lined or striped surgeonfish, the clown surgeonfish has alternating blue and yellow stripes all over its body. The clown surgeonfish has a wide range between East Africa and Hawaii.

Tang: The Fish’s Appearance

The tang is a small, rounded fish with all manner of eccentric colors and patterns adorning its body. The sheer diversity of each species is truly remarkable. There is almost nothing else like it in the animal kingdom. Many theories have been suggested for why tropical fish are so brightly colored, but it probably has something to do with their coral environment.

In addition to the bright colors, these fish sports a single dorsal fin across the length of its back and another long anal fin along the stomach. Perhaps the most distinctive physical characteristic is the sharp spine located on either side of the tail for protecting itself against predators. It also serves the purpose of allowing the tang to duel another male to establish dominance.

Members of the tang family almost never grow larger than 2 feet (with few exceptions such as the 3-foot long whitemargin unicornfish). Most species are less than 10 inches long from head to tail.

Kole Tang, Spotted surgeonfish


Tang Distribution, Population, and Habitat

Most members of the tang family are endemic to the tropical regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Atlantic and Caribbean. The coral reef often provides an oasis for these vulnerable types of fish. When threatened, it can dip into small nooks and crevices in the reefs. These fish is incredibly abundant around the world’s oceans. The IUCN Red List considers many of them to be species of least concern. The loss of their prey from overfishing has contributed to the success of the tang. However, as more coral reefs die off from the effects of climate change, this could put stress on these fish.

Tang: The Fish’s Predators and Prey

This is an important intermediary fish in the coral reef food chain. They take in vital resources from plant matter and also keep algae levels down to prevent them from suffocating the reefs. They are also an important source of food for secondary consumers in the food chain.

What does the tang eat?

Most species of tang are herbivorous consumers that constantly move along the surface of coral reefs and graze on algae and plankton growing in the shallower waters. Some species supplement this with small meat.

What eats the tang?

The main predator of most tang is large carnivorous fish, including tuna, barracuda, groupers, and snappers. The sharp scalpel is its main means of defense against predators.

Tang: The Fish’s Reproduction and Lifespan

The tang as a family has many different methods of reproduction. Most are broadcast spawners that maximize the chances of fertilization by releasing many thousands of eggs and sperm into the water at the same time, where they mix together.

The juveniles usually hatch in a matter of days and sometimes lack even rudimentary eyes, mouths, or a heartbeat. Some species spawn in protective coral or mangrove forests and then move toward the open coral surface as they age. It takes up to a year for the juvenile tang to reach sexual maturity. These are relatively long-living fish that may have a life expectancy of a few decades in the wild.

Tang in Fishing and Cooking

The tang is rarely used in human cuisines. The flesh of some species (like the regal blue tang) is poisonous and should be avoided completely. The fish does not produce this poison itself. Instead, it ingests the toxin from another organism and then passes it on to whatever eats it. Symptoms of the toxin include diarrhea, low blood pressure, and reduced heart hate. Death only occurs in one out of 1,000 cases.

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Tang FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are tangs hardy fish?

As a tropical coral fish, the tang has very specific needs that may make it difficult to keep in captivity. There are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, the tank should have a powerful filtration system. You can combine this with an optional ozone producer or a refugium chemical filtration system to maintain a healthy ecosystem in the tank. Constant water movement is also recommended to simulate the tang’s natural environment. You should always be on the lookout for possible signs of health problems, including spots, labored breathing, lethargy, and loss of appetite. If you follow all of the recommendations, then the tang may even end up outliving many other pets.

What fish are compatible with tangs?

The tang is actually compatible with lots of other saltwater fish, including angelfish, lionfish, blennies, gobies, small groupers, etc. But conflicts may arise if you’re not careful about how you arrange the tank.

Are tangs aggressive?

Yes, tangs do exhibit some aggression toward other fish, and because of their scalpel, any fight can quickly turn dangerous or deadly. To minimize this behavior, it is a good idea to buy a large tank with plenty of swimming room and hiding spots (preferably more than 100 gallons) and, if necessary, place a divider in it. It’s a good idea to introduce the tang into the tank last before it can claim territory for itself. Your fish are also less likely to engage in conflict if they’re happy and well-fed. Remember that most tangs are caught from the wild, and the home aquarium is a new and bewildering habitat for them.

How many species of tangs are there?

There are approximately 75 species of tang currently living. However, some taxonomists put the count at more than 80.

What is the lifespan of a tang fish?

The life expectancy varies, but some species can live up to 30 years in the wild and some 20 years in captivity (where they’re more likely to experience diseases).

Are Tangs herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Tangs are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.

What Kingdom do Tangs belong to?

Tangs belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Tangs belong to?

Tangs belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Tangs belong to?

Tangs belong to the class Actinopterygii.

What family do Tangs belong to?

Tangs belong to the family Acanthuridae.

What order do Tangs belong to?

Tangs belong to the order Perciformes.

What type of covering do Tangs have?

Tangs are covered in Scales.

In what type of habitat do Tangs live?

Tangs live in coral reefs and open oceans.

What is the main prey for Tangs?

Tangs eat plankton, algae, and sometimes meat.

What are some predators of Tangs?

Predators of Tangs include groupers, tuna, snappers, and barracudas.

What are some distinguishing features of Tangs?

Tangs have pointed snouts and razor-sharp scalpels at the base of their tails.

What is the average clutch size of a Tang?

Tangs typically lay 40,000 eggs.

What is an interesting fact about Tangs?

Tangs are found around shallow coral reefs!

What is the biggest threat to the Tang?

The biggest threat to the Tang is loss of coral reefs.

What is another name for the Tang?

The Tang is also called the surgeonfish or unicornfish.

How do Tangs have babies?

Tangs lay eggs.

  1. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/surgeonfish
  2. Seaworld Parks & Entertainment, Available here: https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/bony-fish/blue-tang/
  3. Tropical Fish Magazine, Available here: https://www.tfhmagazine.com/articles/saltwater/tips-and-tricks-for-keeping-tangs-full

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