Blue Tang 101 (And Some Amazing Facts)

Blue tang

Blue tangs have become a household name since the release of the movie Finding Nemo.

They’re one of the most sought-after fish among fishkeeping hobbyists as they liven up the marine aquarium with their unique shape and coloring.

Let’s learn about blue tangs in more detail.

Blue Tang Species Overview

Blue tangs, also called Pacific blue tangs, hippo tangs, flagtail surgeonfish, regal blue tangs, blue surgeonfish, and palette surgeonfish, are popular fish in marine aquariums.

They belong to the Acanthuridae (surgeonfish and tangs) family and can be found in warm, shallow tropical reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific.

These fish prefer coral reefs and rocky areas near the coast. They also inhabit grassy areas surrounded by lots of rocks.

In the wild, blue tangs live singly, in pairs, or small groups of around 8 to 12.

However, occasionally they form large groups and can be seen grazing on the algae in the reefs.

Appearance

Beautiful blue tang

Blue tangs are recognized by their blue body with black markings.

They have compressed, pancake-shaped bodies with small scales and pointed snouts.

These fish have a pair of razor-sharp, venomous spines on either side of their tails, which are used for defense against predators.

Surprisingly, blue tangs aren’t always blue. They change appearance as they mature.

When they’re young, blue tangs are bright yellow. They change to a blend of blue and yellow during adolescence.

Their color changes to bright blue or purplish-gray with a yellow caudal fin as these fish enter the intermediate phase.

Adult blue tangs appear deep blue to purplish blue with yellow caudal spines.

The male and female blue tangs look similar, but the males are typically larger.

Lifespan

Blue tangs can live for more than 30 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live between 8 to 15 years.

Their longevity largely depends upon the care taken and the diet provided.

Blue tangs can live up to 20 years in a home aquarium if properly cared for.

Average Size

Blue tangs grow pretty large, up to 12 inches. They grow on an average of two inches per year while they’re young.

After a few years, their growth slows down to one inch per year.

Their size mainly depends upon the tank size, the diet that you feed, and the living conditions provided to them.

Blue Tang Tank Setup

Blue tang in a tank

Setting up an ideal habitat for blue tangs is essential to keep them healthy and happy.

A large tank with lots of space, clean water, live rocks, and adequate hiding places such as caves are essential for their thriving.

Let’s understand how to set up a blue tang tank in detail.

Tank Size

At a minimum, blue tangs need a 100-gallon tank as they’re very active.

These fish are happiest when they get enough room to swim freely in the tank.

The tank needs to be 6 feet long, allowing enough space for the adult blue tangs to swim naturally and forage on the aquarium rocks for algae films.

Besides, they need a robust filter and other equipment like a heater, air pump, powerhead, live rocks, etc., to thrive.

All this equipment needs space. That’s why it’s vital to house blue tangs in a larger tank so that they’re not cramped for space.

Small tanks can restrict their free movement and result in aggressive behavior.

These fish can become territorial in the absence of enough space or if their territory gets invaded by tankmates.

Tank Equipment and Decorations

Blue tangs are highly sensitive to their environment.

Hence, a well-designed tank with good lighting, a proper filtration system, and decorations can keep your blue tang happy.

Aquarium decor should include plants, rocks, driftwood, artificial coral, and other items that provide hiding places for the fish to destress.

These fish like to graze on the algae. Hence, live rocks are essential in their tanks.

Besides, they need highly oxygenated water to thrive, which can be provided through increased surface agitation or air stones.

A good skimmer is also recommended to maintain excellent water quality.

Given below are the items required in a blue tang tank:

  • Soft sandy substrate,
  • Filter,
  • Heater,
  • Air Pump,
  • Aquarium Lights for a fish-only tank,
  • Reef tank lighting if corals are added,
  • Aquatic Plants,
  • Thermometer,
  • pH testing kit, and
  • Hiding places like live rocks, caves, driftwood, etc.

Blue Tang Care

Healthy blue tang

Blue tangs aren’t suitable for novice aquarists due to their high sensitivity.

They’re a species that easily succumb to stress, and their health deteriorates if proper care isn’t taken.

Hence, taking adequate care of blue tangs is vital for their optimum growth.

Diet

Blue tangs primarily feed on algae in their natural habitat.

Young blue tangs consume plankton, while adults are omnivores that feed on plankton and algae.

In captivity, you can feed blue tangs a varied diet consisting of vitamin-enriched algae-based flake foods, marine algae, algae wafers and tablets, spirulina, seaweed, plankton, and veggies such as blanched lettuce, spinach leaves, kale, and broccoli.

Although blue tangs thrive on algae-based food, they need some amount of protein in their diet.

You can occasionally feed protein-rich food such as live or frozen brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, bloodworms, chopped squid, krill, etc., as a treat twice a week.

Since these fish have a quick metabolism, you can feed them thrice a day for optimal growth.

Water Parameters

Blue tangs prefer warm water as they inhabit the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

They’re extremely sensitive to their environment. Hence, stable water parameters are essential for them to thrive.

It’s best to mimic water conditions that resemble their natural habitat to make them feel comfortable and stress-free.

The ideal water parameters for blue tangs are:

Water Temperature: 75°F to 82°F (25°C to 28°C)

Water pH: 8.1 to 8.4

Specific Gravity (Salinity): 1.020 to 1.025

Water Hardness (dGH): 8 to 12

Tank Maintenance

Keeping your tank clean and healthy is imperative for the healthy development of blue tangs.

Polluted water can cause diseases and infections to your fish and prove fatal if left untreated.

Regular cleaning will help remove any debris from the tank, thus making it easier for your fish to breathe.

It will also prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria and parasites in the tank.

You can use an aquarium vacuum cleaner to remove waste and debris from the substrate.

A sponge brush can be used to scrub the sides of the tank. This will not only keep your tank clean but also increase its efficiency.

You must also perform regular water changes to ensure that the water quality is always maintained.

Common Diseases

Blue tangs are hardy fish once they get acclimated. However, they’re not immune.

They’re prone to protozoan and bacterial diseases.

Most ailments that affect blue tangs are caused by nutritional deficiency, stress, and poor water conditions.

Given below are a few of the common diseases that can affect blue tangs:

  • Marine Ich,
  • Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE),
  • Velvet,
  • Black Spot disease, etc.

A proper quarantine period, a nutritious diet, and attention to their well-being can go a long way in preventing these problems from showing up.

Blue Tang Behavior and Temperament

Blue tangs are semi-aggressive fish.

They’re most aggressive toward their own species and other fish with similar shapes and coloration.

Young blue tangs are less aggressive and can live along with other tangs if introduced simultaneously.

However, as they become adults, they become more aggressive toward their kind and don’t tolerate each other.

Male blue tangs establish dominance by fencing with their sharp spines.

Another unique feature of blue tangs is that they lay still when threatened by a predator.

This behavior is seen more in their natural environment, where they lay on their side and remain motionless until the danger passes.

Although not very aggressive, these fish become territorial due to the lack of space.

Hence, housing them in a large tank with enough space to claim territory is vital to curb their aggression.

Blue Tang Tankmates

Blue tang with tankmates

Blue tangs are peaceful as long as they’re away from their own kind.

They’re an excellent choice for aquarists who want to start with schooling fish.

They’re also compatible with many fish species with a similar temperament.

Blue tangs also are included in a marine reef tank as they’re reef-safe.

However, they can damage sensitive corals while foraging for algae.

Blue Tangs can be safely kept with many of the most popular community saltwater fish, such as:

  • Clownfish,
  • Dwarf angelfish,
  • Gobies,
  • Blennies,
  • Damselfish,
  • Cardinalfish, etc.

Although blue tangs get along with many fish, they shouldn’t be housed with highly aggressive and territorial fish.

Blue tangs can get stressed due to constant bullying, adversely affecting their health.

Some of the fish that you should avoid keeping with blue tangs are:

  • Other Blue tangs and Surgeonfish species,
  • Dottyback fish,
  • Triggerfish, and
  • Maroon Clownfish.

Blue Tang Breeding

Breeding blue tangs in captivity are unheard of due to their aggressive social dynamics and the need for a coral reef.

These fish, however, breed successfully in their natural habitat.

Blue tangs mature at 9 to 12 months of age, and once they grow to around 11 to 13 cm in length.

In the wild, male blue tangs aggressively court females of the school.

Spawning usually occurs during the late afternoon and evening hours.

The fish suddenly swim upward, with females releasing their eggs above the coral.

Male fish then release their sperm to fertilize the laid eggs.

Female blue tang releases around 40000 eggs during a spawning session.

The eggs are tiny, approximately 0.8 mm in diameter.

The eggs are also pelagic and contain a single droplet of oil, which makes them buoyant.

The fertilized eggs hatch in 24 hours.

Once fertilization is complete, the male and female blue tangs swim away and don’t care for their offspring.

The newly hatched larvae are diamond-shaped and laterally compressed. They feed on their own and develop into young fish.

Young blue tangs grow up on the reef, changing both their appearance and feeding habits as they grow.