Sailfin Tang (Pacific Sailfin Tang)

Helpful Information for Hobbyists

Striped sailfin tang
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One of the more amicable members of the tang family, sailfin tangs still have a tendency to get territorial around other tangs. It is a beautiful, colorful fish that looks similar to its close relative the Desjardin's sailfin tang, and is more common and is less expensive.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Pacific sailfin tang, eastern sailfin tang, ringed tang, surgeonfish

Scientific Name: Zebrasoma veliferum

Adult Size: Up to 15 inches

Life Expectancy: 5 to 7 years


Family Acanthuridae
Origin Oceania, the Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific
Social Semi-aggressive
Tank Level All areas
Minimum Tank Size 125 gallon
Diet Herbivore
Breeding Egg scatterer
Care Easy to intermediate
pH 8.1 to 8.4
Hardness 8 to 12 dGH
Temperature 75 to 82 F (25 to 28 C)

Origin and Distribution

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

They can live in waters to a depth of three feet to 200 feet or more. The young ones are solitary by nature and like to spend their time mostly hidden behind rocks, corals, and turbid reefs. They prefer coral areas having strong water currents.

Colors and Markings

The sailfin tang has a disc-shaped body comprised of a huge anal fin, an elevated dorsal fin, and an extended snout. The pharyngeal teeth are fewer in number and larger in size compared to some of the other species in the Zebrasoma genus. It has scalpels that are sharp spine-like structures located on both sides of the caudal peduncle; these structures serve as defense mechanisms and help the fish to exert domination. The scalpels are folded inside a groove when they are not in use.

In the juvenile stage, the body is a medium brown color, it has bright yellow stripes with some of the bright yellow color distributed through its fins, tail, and nose. When in the adult stage the body is a brownish-olive color, and the yellow stripes turn a pale yellow with a golden yellow tail.


Like most fish in the surgeonfish family, sailfin tangs are a fish that do not play well with other sailfin tangs. They are very territorial, so if you put two of them together they will fight. Because of the razor or spur by the tail, when they fight they will cut each other up. Do not put more than one in a tank. If a sailfin is in a tank with other surgeonfish, it may get bullied.

It rarely bothers invertebrates, although the occasional specimen may develop the bad habit of nipping at clam mantles or the polyps of fleshy large-polyp stony corals. They are normally compatible with most other fish.

In the wild, a cleaner wrasse will help them by taking parasites from their bodies, however, these wrasses are extremely difficult to sustain in captivity. Alternative fish such as neon gobies or cleaner shrimp can help them by providing this cleaning service in the home aquarium.

Sailfin Tang Habitat and Care

A quick and agile swimmer it will spend a good deal of its time in the open water and move in and out of crevices. Frequent water changes are not necessary. You can change 10 percent of the water biweekly or 20 percent once a month.

All surgeonfish need an aquarium with plenty of aeration, a strong current will help to provide good oxygenation. Provide plenty of space, especially for adult specimens, along with lots of rocks and corals with crevices for retreating and for sleeping. This decor will also lend itself to algae growth which surgeonfish enjoy grazing on, making them a valuable addition to a reef environment.

Sailfin tangs can be fairly hardy once acclimated but will not do well in a tank that has not completed the aquarium nitrogen cycle. Add a sailfin tang to a tank that has been set up and running for at least six months. Use an aquarium test kit to test the water parameters before introducing the fish to the tank.

Sailfin Tang Diet

The sailfin tang fish chiefly feed on leafy microalgae, so any tank with sufficient amount of algae makes a very good habitat for this species. Sailfin tangs adapt easily to basic tank foods like flake food, shrimp, sheets of dried kelp, or nori seaweed, just to name a few. They will eat just about anything, but being more of a herbivore, they prefer greens.

Sexual Differences

For most of the Zebrasoma species, there are no apparent sexual differences. Males tend to grow a little larger than the females. You may witness some sexual differences, in terms of the mating ritual, but these appear only during the spawning period. 

Breeding of the Sailfin Tang 

Not much is known about the breeding habits of these fishes in the open waters. Sailfin tangs are either male or female and no hermaphroditic characteristics are present. 

Spawning of these fish is closely related to the lunar cycles. The fish breed in pairs. The males perform a color changing spectacle to draw the attention of the females. The males are polygamous and can mate with several females within a single season. On the other hand, the sexually mature females breed only once in a month.

The fish larvae initially survive on the egg yolk for the first three days. From day four, they start to feed on plankton. As they move on to a more developed stage, their bodies become more compressed and thorns appear on their dorsal as well as their ventral fins. Their bodies develop into being scaleless and transparent. This stage of larvae is called “acronurus larva” which is seen only in Acanthuridae family of fish. As they mature, their bodies become oval and round-like and the caudal peduncle becomes more prominent.

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

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