Orange Shoulder Tang (Orangeband Surgeonfish)

Characteristics, Origin, and Helpful Information for Hobbyists

Orange shoulder tang fish
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The distinctive looking orange shoulder tang is an often overlooked fish. It is a very beautiful fish to have in an aquarium. It can be a good fish for a large community saltwater reef tank. It drastically changes its color display when it matures (in a good way).

The juvenile orange shoulder tang is one of the more friendly surgeonfish species and usually shows less aggression toward other fish. If you want to keep more than one in the same aquarium, you should ideally get juveniles and introduce them all to the aquarium at the same time.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Orangeshoulder surgeonfish, orangeband surgeonfish, or orange-epaulette surgeonfish

Scientific Name: Canthurus olivaceus

Adult Size: Up to 14 inches

Life Expectancy: 5 to 7 years


Family Acanthuridae
Origin Pacific Islands
Social Semi-aggressive
Tank Level All areas
Minimum Tank Size 135 gallon
Diet Omnivore
Breeding Egg scatterer
Care Moderate
pH 8.1 to 8.4
Hardness 8 to 12 dGH
Temperature 75 to 82 F (24 to 28 C)

Origin and Distribution

The distribution of this species extends from Hawaii southward to central Polynesia and westward through Micronesia, Melanesia, the Philippines, and the East Indies.

As they grow, the orange shoulder tang will migrate to the highly oxygenated waters on or near the surge zones of the reef, where it will live the rest of its life unless forced to move by forces such as a hurricane which makes the reef waters uninhabitable.

Colors and Markings

At first glance, the colors of the orange shoulder tang are not very bright, but upon closer examination of this fish, you notice a brownish-olive two-tone coloration accented by the bright orange bar on its shoulder.

Due to its eventual larger size, the orange shoulder tang is most often displayed in large public aquariums as opposed to smaller hobby aquariums. The body of this fish during its juvenile stage is bright yellow, with just the slightest hint of blue edging on the anal and dorsal fins. Juveniles lack the orange spot or slash on its shoulder, which develops as it matures.

The "sword" or "scalpel" at the base of the tail of the orange shoulder tang is not as large or dangerous as it is with some other surgeonfish, such as the naso tang (Naso lituratus) or the Achilles tang (Acanthurus achilles) however they are still large enough and sharp enough to inflict a serious wound, so be cautious when handling this fish. While the scalpel can inflict a serious cut, the major danger is a resulting bacterial infection, which can be very serious.


As long as the aquarium is large enough, a juvenile and an adult may be kept together. It is generally compatible with other non-aggressive tank mates, but if plans are to keep this species with other surgeonfish, it is recommended to add this fish first, or if of the same species, place them in the aquarium at the same time.

The maximum size of the orange shoulder tang is about 14 inches.

Habitat and Care

Because of its size and constant roaming nature, the minimum aquarium size suggested for this fish is at least 135 gallons with a lot of open swimming space.

It is a reef safe species as long as it is well fed. A hungry orange shoulder tang may nip over the corals and usually will not hurt invertebrates. The orange shoulder tang will require a few suitable hiding spots so they can claim one as their own if spooked or startled. Having a good amount of live rock in your tank will not only help you to maintain good water parameters but also provide a more natural environment for the orange shoulder tang as they like to pick at algae as it develops on your live rocks.


Being an omnivore this fish feeds on filamentous algae, diatoms, as well as detritus off sand bottom substrates in the wild. It is best kept in an aquarium with an open sand bottom and ample algae growth for grazing. 

In an aquarium, this fish should be fed a varied diet including marine algae (dried seaweed) as well as meaty fare. Hanging dried Nori seaweed in a veggie clip in the tank is an excellent way to feed this fish. The Orange Shoulder will take mysis shrimp, which is an excellent source of protein for this and other fish. Feed small amounts three times per day. You can also give cucumber, lettuce, broccoli, and it will also take meaty frozen foods.

Sexual Differences

For orange shoulder tangs, the sexes remain separate, in other words, there is no gender switching with this species. This species does not seem to have any unique identifying characteristics between the sexes. Males will assume brighter courtship colors during mating periods.


To date, the orange shoulder tang has not been successfully bred in captivity.

In the wild, this fish, as with other surgeonfish, is a "free spawner" or, in other terms, an egg scatterer with the female ejecting her eggs near the surface of the water and the male fertilizing the eggs as they drift to the surface. Once the fertilized eggs reach the surface they drift with the ocean current in the plankton layer of the ocean. The eggs mature, and the fry hatch out, still drifting in the current. The fry feed on the algae, larvae, and other microscopic life in the plankton layer. When the plankton and the fry drift close enough to land, the fry descend to the bottom of the ocean, usually in the calmer waters outside of the surge zones on the reef and in bays and harbors.

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

If orange shoulder tangs appeal to you, and you are interested in some compatible fish for your aquarium, read up on: