Everything That You Need To Know About The Blue Tang

When life gets you down, you know why you’ve got to do? Keep swimming - Finding Dory 

Thanks to Pixar and their films that celebrated life below the ocean waves, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory the Blue Tang became an overnight celebrity and a fish that every budding saltwater aquarist wanted to add to their tank.

Native to the Caribbean, and found swimming around and diving in out of the many reefs that litter the sea between Florida and Belize, the Acanthurus coeruleus goes by many different names (including the blue doctor and the blue barber) but is most commonly known as the Blue Tang. 

This species of surgeonfish hammered its way into the public consciousness as Dory, the breakout star of the aforementioned films, was a Blue Tang. While the character on screen bore little resemblance to the way that the fish she was portraying actually behave and interact with other fish in the real world, Dory did ensure that the whole world knew what a Blue Tang was, and what this species of surgeonfish looked like. 

Appearances can be deceptive though, and while you could waste hours watching this beautiful fish swim around in your tank, letting it loose in your aquarium poses its own set of problems as this unique surgeonfish has a host of personality quirks and needs that you‘ll need to accommodate if you want it to thrive and survive. And, to ensure that it does, we’re going to tell you everything that you need to know about the Blue Tang. 

The Right Tank For the Right Fish

Blue Tangs require the right amount of room and heat to flourish, and the conditions inside your tank will need to match those of their native environment.

The species needs room to move and roam, and due to the fact that they can grow to be big by Tang standards (although they’re not the biggest members of the Tang family, they’re not the smallest either) they shouldn’t really be kept in any tank that’s less than four feet in length and ideally, the tank should be able to hold at least seventy-five gallons of water. 

That said, we’d always recommend that any tank you intend to keep Tang in should be around five to six feet in length and be able to hold around one hundred gallons of water. They need room to move, as they have a tendency to wander especially if you intend to keep more than one Blue Tang.

When they’re in schools (a group of similar fish), they tend to forgo their territorial nature and act for the good of the whole instead of the individual members of the school. 

Turning Up The Heat

The temperature of the water also needs to mimic their natural climate and should be maintained at a constant eighty degrees Fahrenheit, so the heat will always need to be on, and the temperature shouldn’t ever be allowed to fluctuate by more than a couple of degrees either way. 

Creating A Tang Happy Environment

As they tend to spend a lot of their lives around reefs in the wild, it’s also imperative that you include adequate rockwork in your tank, and that it has enough holes and tunnels for the fish to swim in and out of and hide when they feel they need to.

Blue Tang Guide

And even though rock work provides a perfect foothold for algae to grow, especially in the temperate water that Tang’s need, the latest addition to your tank will ensure that the algae won’t grow at an unprecedented rate, as the Tangs will eat it almost as fast as it appears. 

Let's Talk Tangs 

The Blue Tang is, as we’ve already mentioned, a member of the larger surgeonfish family, but that doesn’t mean that they can be housed in the same tank as other surgeonfish. The Blue Tang is a naturally aggressive fish, and can and will fight for dominance in any area it calls home, a facet of its behavior that’s controlled by its fierce territorial instincts. 

Their inherent territorial behavior and aggression is the primary reason why they should never be kept alone, as multiple Blue Tang, providing that they’re introduced to a tank at the same time, will tend to form a school, and the fish are less prone to aggressive behavior in larger numbers. 

Introducing Blue Tang To Your Tank 

When you introduce any Blue Tang to your tank, it needs to be done slowly and methodically, as they often exhibit aggression toward other fish, but providing they’re added carefully, they can, and will interact and live with other species of fish. So, yes you can replicate Finding Nemo in the comfort of your own home, as Blue Tang and Clownfish can happily share the same living space. 

It’s Dinner Time - Feeding Blue Tang

The younger a Tang is, the higher its metabolism is, and even though its metabolism will slow down during its life, and as the fish reaches maturity, ideally they should be fed at least twice a day.  

Blue Tangs are omnivorous but tend to favor a meat-rich diet, so as well as eating any algae that grows in your tank, they should be fed with fish food that has a high protein content that will replicate their natural diet. 

Tangs are also more than a little enamored with seaweed, and will also happily eat it if it’s available to them. It’s important to ensure that a Blue Tang has a varied diet, as they can suffer from a loss of color (which is a definitive way to tell that the fish is ailing) if their nutritional needs aren’t being adequately met. 

The Long Haul 

Blue Tangs like every member of their genus are susceptible to skin diseases and fin rot, but as long as the water in your tank is kept at the right temperature and is clean, they shouldn’t be any more prone to illness than any other fish in your tank. 

They do however live for a surprisingly long time, and it isn’t uncommon for Blue Tang to live for up to twenty-five years in captivity, so you’ll need to be prepared for the fact that keeping, and looking after Blue Tang is a long term commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Strange Tang Facts 

The Blue Tang has a well-developed sense of self-preservation and when it’s being hunted by larger, carnivorous fish and predators in the wild, the Tang plays dead. It’ll float on its side, or lie on the bottom of the ocean and won’t move until it’s sure that any danger has passed and it’s safe for it to start moving again.  

As the Tang will only engage in this behavior if it believes that it is being threatened, the chances of seeing one “play dead” while they’re in a tank are slim to non-existent as they won’t be plagued, or feel threatened by any natural predators. 

Blue Tang Couple

The Blue Tang’s Poison Touch

The Blue Tang like every member of its genus has a caudal spine, which emerges when the fish is agitated or excited. If you are stung by this spine, even though it'll be extremely painful for a number of hours after the initial sting, it isn’t poisonous.

While some members of the surgeonfish family do possess poison glands and sacs, the Blue Tang isn’t one of them. The sting is painful, but it isn’t poisonous. 

Even though their sting isn’t poisonous, their flesh can be. Blue Tangs are regarded as being low-value catch by fishermen, as they can’t and shouldn’t be eaten by humans. Long-term exposure to toxins within the fish’s natural reef environment, while not dangerous to the fish, can be deadly to anyone who tries to eat them. 

Leaving The Tang Alone

While it’s an alluring and beautiful fish to watch, there are a number of reasons why the Blue Tang shouldn’t be kept in captivity. And none of them have anything to do with the Tang being an endangered species, as it isn’t an endangered fish and continues to prosper in its natural environment. 

As it’s an aggressive fish, introducing a Blue Tang into your tank, regardless of how carefully you do it, poses a significant risk to any other fish who might already be living there. The Tang can, and probably will attack any other residents of your tank, which won’t end well for either party. 

They’re far from easy to look after and take care of and you’ll have to be constantly on your guard and involved in the maintenance of your tank if you do want to keep them. Which flies in the face of the idea that aquarism is a relaxing hobby, as you’ll be in a constant state of alert if you do have a couple of Blue Tang in your tank. 

Then there’s the size requirement of the tank that you’ll need to keep Blue Tang and the expense of actually buying them. If you don’t have the room for a large tank in your home, you’d be better off looking at a different species to populate your aquarium with and forgetting about trying to keep these reassuringly expensive fish.  

The final reason to reconsider keeping Blue Tangs is that the fish doesn’t breed in captivity, which means that every Blue Tang that’s swimming around in a tank was captured in the wild and sold to a pet shop or specialist supplier before it made its way to whoever bought it. 

Removing any creature from its natural habitat for the pleasure of another is an unnecessarily cruel practice and the Tang should be left to live out its days in the environment that it was born into.