Kole Tang

A Royal Fish for Your Tank

Kole Tang
  Martin Harvey/Getty Images

The Kole Tang (Ctenochaetus strigosus) is a terrific addition to almost any saltwater aquarium. The Kole Tang spends its time picking at all kinds of algae.

An interesting side note: In ancient times when the Polynesians migrated to Hawaii, they found a lot of Kole Tangs in the waters around the islands. They discovered that the Kole Tangs were delicious to eat and were so good that they decided that they should only be consumed by Hawaiian royalty.

If a "commoner" was caught eating this "royal food" the commoner would instantly be put to death. Today, of course, this practice has been discontinued and the Kole Tang can be found on many dinner tables.

Characteristics

Scientific NameCtenochaetus strigosus 
SynonymAcanthurus strigosus
Common NameKole Tang, Yelloweye Bristletooth, Goldring Bristletooth, Goldring Surgeonfish, Yelloweye Surgeonfish.
FamilyAcanthuridae
OriginCentral and South Pacific and the Indian Ocean
Adult Size7 inches
Social Peaceful except with other Surgeonfish
Lifespan5+ years
Tank LevelAll levels
Minimum Tank Size70 gallons
DietOmnivore
BreedingOpen water egg scatterers
CareEasy to moderate
pH8 - 8.4
Temperature75°F - 82°F (24°C - 28°C)

Origin and Distribution

The Kole Tang extends from Hawai'i southward to central and eastern Polynesia and Australia, and westward through Micronesia, Melanesia, and the Philippines, through the East Indies, and across the Indian Ocean at least as far as Mauritius.

Apparently, this species does not inhabit this entire area, and specimens from various localities do appear somewhat different in structure and color within this area.

Colors and Markings

The body of the Hawaiian Kole Tang is brown in color and is marked with about 35 fine, light, longitudinal lines which continue onto the rear of the soft dorsal and anal fins at the back of the body.

Indian Ocean specimens bear spots, rather than the distinctive stripes. The Hawaiian Kole's eye is encircled by a bright yellow ring, small blue spots cover much of the head, and the chin appears to be a purplish color. Some juvenile specimens have a greenish yellow color with blue markings and faint dark stripes.

Tankmates

Even though the Kole Tang is one of the less aggressive Surgeonfishes, it will battle with its own kind, and possibly with close relatives. Since it is less aggressive, it may also be picked on by other, more aggressive Surgeonfishes. For this reason, it is best kept singly, one per tank, but it does make a good choice when it comes to compatibility with other more docile, non-related species. To reduce compatibility problems it generally helps to introduce them into the aquarium at the same time. Like all Surgeonfishes, the Kole has a very sharp spur or razor by the tail, so use caution when handling this fish.

Kole Tang Habitat and Care

The Kole Tang (usually just a single member of the species) is a good choice for a reef tank and they do pick at live rock; they have been known to pick at coral. Because it is very active, it's a good idea to provide as large a tank as possible (55 gallons is really a minimum, and 70 is better).

Be sure the tank lid is secure, as these fish can and do jump. Temperatures should be kept between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit; PH should stay between 8 and 8.4.

Kole Tang are relatively hardy, but do need well-oxygenated water and can benefit from cleaner shrimp and other "cleaner" species as they are prone to ich. The Kole Tang themselves are also fantastic at cleaning Brown Algae from the tank walls.

Be aware that Tang, like all Surgeonfish, do have sharp spines. This can be a danger when moving or handling the fish, so it's important to wear gloves and use your net with care.

Kole Tang Diet 

The Kole Tang spends each day constantly grazing and eating, so providing it with an environment with plenty of algae growth is best. Beware not to put one in a small reef tank, as it can do a lot of damage if you have delicate plants and algae growth that you want to keep.

In a very large reef tank, the plant growth can recover, as the Kole has so much to pick from. The Kole Tang adapts to tank fed foods very well. It likes nori (dried seaweed), flake foods made from dried marine algae, and will even nibble on some meaty foods like dried shrimp and blood worms.

Sex Difference

Male and female Kole Tang are essentially identical, but some males do change color during mating season.

Breeding the Kole Tang

It's very unlikely that you'll be able to breed Kole Tang in a home aquarium. In fact, very little is known about how Kole Tang breed, except that they are group spawners. In other words, they congregate to release and fertilize eggs in the open water.

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

Otherwise, check out all of our other saltwater pet fish breed profiles.