Blue Tang (Paracanthurus Hepatus): Ultimate Care Guide

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Common NameBlue Tang, Palette Surgeonfish, Blue Doctorfish
Scientific NameParacanthurus Hepatus
OriginWestern Atlantic Ocean
Temperature73F – 81F
Water pH8.1 – 8.4
Size9.8 to 12 inches

Blue Tang Facts

  • Blue Tang are found in the Western Atlantic Ocean. They can be found from New York all the way to Bermuda. From the Gulf of Mexico and onward south to Brazil.
  • You might know a famous Blue Tang. The character Dory from the movie Finding Nemo, is a Blue Tang.
  • Blue Tangs are poisonous fish. They can inject venom from their specialty defense spines, but their flesh also contains a toxin called ciguatera.
  • Blue Tangs are captive bred, but it is still estimated by experts that as many as 250,000 of them are taken from the wild for the aquarium trade.

Since the release of the movie Finding Nemo, Blue Tangs have become a household name and they are easily recognized by most. They have round, vibrant, blue bodies with black markings as well as yellow on their tails. You will want to use caution when handling Blue Tangs, as they also come equipped with toxic spines. They are beautiful additions to the right aquariums, and if you are experienced in dealing with saltwater aquariums, they could be a wonderful addition for your home aquarium. In the wild, Blue Tangs are found in the western Atlantic Ocean around coral reefs. Even though Blue Tangs can be bred in captivity, it is still estimated that roughly 250,000 Blue Tangs are taken from the wild for sale in the aquarium trade.

Blue Tang (Paracanthurus Hepatus)
Blue Tang (Paracanthurus Hepatus)

Can You Keep Blue Tang As A Pet?

Blue Tangs can be kept as pets, but they can quickly become expensive to maintain. Not only do they require a minimum of a 100 gallon saltwater tank to house just one, they need a tank that is at least 6 feet tall as well. Blue Tangs are beautiful to look at, but there are other, similar looking alternatives for a beginner to the fishkeeping hobby.

Are Blue Tang Toxic?

Blue Tangs are beautiful, but they can be dangerous to keep. They have two sharp spines that are located near their caudal fin on either side. These spines are capable of standing up when the Blue Tang feels threatened. They use this as a form of self defense. When threatened, the Blue Tang will thrash about with its spines extended to inflict deep cuts or wounds to its attacker. These wounds are a high risk for infection, and will swell up and bruise. In the wild this serves a very useful purpose, but in captivity, it can be dangerous for aquarists to handle them.

Not that you would want to eat such a beautiful fish, but Blue Tang carry a toxin in their bodies, and even in their flesh so they are not safe for human consumption. This toxin is called ciguatera. This means that not only do you not want to get stung by a Blue Tang, but you do not want to make a meal of one either.  Ciguatera toxin can cause vomiting and diarrhea in humans, as well as migraines and muscle aches. More extremely it can cause hallucinations,  heart problems,  and breathing problems.

Most of the time, Blue Tang toxin will not kill you, but it is largely dependent on the person and the amount of toxin they have in their body. If you are unfortunate enough to be injured by a Blue Tang, you will have pain, but that should subside after a few hours. If it does not, you will want to seek medical attention.

Blue Tangs Care

Blue Tangs are not a difficult fish to keep if they are provided with the right conditions. Unfortunately, providing the right conditions for Blue Tangs can get rather pricey. If you have experience with saltwater aquariums and fish, then Blue Tangs might be the perfect fish for you.

Are Blue Tangs Good For Beginners?

Blue Tangs are not a difficult fish to keep if they are provided with the right conditions, but Blue Tangs are not recommended for beginners. Saltwater tanks require a lot of maintenance, and can get rather pricey. If your goal is to own Blue Tangs, you will want to get experience with keeping saltwater tanks before you attempt to keep them.

Food & Diet

Blue Tangs are herbivorous and whether they are captive-bred or wild-caught they will readily accept food in the aquarium. Blue Tangs enjoy nori, plankton, krill, and algae-based fish flakes. It is important to note that  most of the diet of the Blue Tang is algae based. A proper Blue Tang aquarium will also include live rock so that they can graze for algae in between meal times. Blue Tangs have a quick metabolism, and they do best when fed 3 times per day. To help keep their aquarium clean, you will want to offer them only enough food that they can completely consume in roughly 3 minutes.

Even though Blue Tangs are herbivores, they still need a little protein in their diet, and can be given the occasional bloodworm or brine shrimp as a treat. When fed the proper, varied diet, Blue Tangs will reward your effort with a more vibrant color display.

Size & Lifespan

Blue Tangs require a lot of space as they can get up to 12 inches in length at full maturity. They have a rather quick growth rate, and owners of Blue Tangs report them being fully grown at around 5 years. The longevity of the Blue Tang is largely dependent upon the care that they receive, their diet,  and the conditions in which they are kept. If properly cared for you can expect your Blue Tang to live up to 20 years. Some owners have reported their Blue Tang living even longer.

Blue Tang (Paracanthurus Hepatus)
Blue Tang (Paracanthurus Hepatus)

Blue Tang Diseases

Blue Tangs are considered hardy fish, but they are still susceptible to illness. Blue Tangs are particularly susceptible to ich and other skin diseases. This is due to their thin mucosal layer or slime coat. This makes it easier for parasites to find their way to the skin of the fish. You can tell if your Blue Tangs have ich if they are scratching their bodies on rocks or other surfaces of the aquarium, and by the sudden appearance of white spots on their bodies.

Most of the ailments that can affect Blue Tangs are caused by imbalances in their diet, stress, or their water parameters. If there is an issue with your Blue Tangs in your home aquarium, you will want to check all of your aquarium systems to make sure that they are operating properly and work from there. 

Blue Tangs are also susceptible to an ailment called head and lateral line erosion disease, or HLLE. This condition is caused by a nutritional deficiency.

Ich Disease

Blue Tangs have a much thinner mucosal coat than other species of fish, and this makes them more susceptible to ich. Ich is a parasitic disease that can affect most species of fish. It can be identified by white spots that appear on the body of the fish. You will also notice them trying to itch themselves on rocks and decor. Even though Blue Tangs can catch ich more easily, it is not a death sentence. There are a few effective ways to treat it if you suspect that your Blue Tangs are infected.

It is important to keep in mind that Blue Tangs are easily stressed, and it is not advised to quarantine a Blue Tang in isolation. They are an easily stressed fish, and removing them could cause more harm than good. It is possible for the infected Blue Tang to fight off ich on its own, and even become more resistant to it in the future. This is more likely to happen in a well established tank.

Blue Tang Tank Requirements

Blue Tangs require a minimum of 100 gallons and be at least 4 feet in length to house, but if you have enough room to accommodate a larger tank, your Blue Tangs will thank you. Blue Tangs are an active species of fish, and they are happiest when they have enough room to roam. They require a temperature of 73F to 81F, and 8.1 to 8.4 pH. Blue Tangs have a much thinner mucosal layer, or slime coat. Their thin slime coat makes them more susceptible to disease. It is very important to make sure that you maintain the correct water parameters, and cleanliness for your Blue Tangs so that they do not become ill. Maintaining saltwater aquariums can be difficult, not to mention pricey.

Blue Tang Tank Setup

If you are planning on owning Blue Tangs, you will want to make sure that you have a well established aquarium to house them. This means that you will have a better chance of successfully keeping Blue Tangs if you set up a tank for them and let it cycle through for a long time before you ever purchase Blue Tangs for it. Placing Blue Tangs in an already established aquarium is important as they are extremely sensitive to their environment, and they can become ill quickly if their needs are not met.

Blue Tangs require clean, well oxygenated water, so be sure to include several aerators in their aquarium and invest in a quality filtration system. They also require a gentle current. In a larger tank this means that you will need several circulation pumps to achieve this.

 When deciding on aquarium decor for Blue Tangs, you will want to keep in mind their natural habitat. Blue Tangs are fish that stress easily, so you will want to consider their comfort. Start with a soft sandy substrate, and then include lots of live rock for Blue Tangs to graze on the algae. You should also include a few places for them to hide amongst the rocks so that they have places to hide and destress.

What Does the Natural Habitat For Blue Tang Look Like?

The wild Blue Tangs can be found around coral reefs, and sometimes more inshore in grassy areas with lots of rocks. They can also  be found grazing for algae along the rocks at depths of 6 to 130 feet.

How Do You Setup an Ideal Habitat for Blue Tang?

Setting up an ideal habitat for Blue Tang requires you to have experience with saltwater tanks, and to have an already established aquarium that was set up with Blue Tang requirements and needs in mind. Blue Tangs are a species of fish that is easily prone to stress, and if their needs are not being met they will quickly decline. An ideal habitat for Blue Tangs would include lots of space, live rock, and caves to hide in.

Are Blue Tang Reef Safe?

Blue Tangs are considered reef safe, but they can possibly damage sensitive corals when looking for algae to eat. Placing lots of live rock in their aquarium can help deter this behavior, as well as a high quality, varied diet.

Breeding Blue Tang

Blue Tangs have successfully been bred in captivity, although it is considered difficult. Most of the Blue Tangs in the aquarium trade are wild caught. Scientists estimate that as many as 250,000 of them in captivity today are taken from the wild.

In the wild, when Blue Tangs are ready to spawn, they will gather in a large grouping. The females will release up to 40,000 eggs at a time over the coral reef, and the males will swim through the eggs and fertilize them.

How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Blue Tang?

Blue Tangs do not display differences between males and females that you can observe by just looking at them. They do, however, display some behavioral differences during certain times. These behavioral differences can help you to identify which Blue Tangs are male and which are female. It is said that when the female Blue Tang is nearing spawning time, her hormones will swing a few times per day. If you see one of your Blue Tangs swimming around aimlessly for a time, then it is most likely that it is female.

Blue Tang Tank Mates

Blue Tangs are considered peaceful, but territorial. They are best when kept in a single species tank with as much room as you can give them. Even though they are peaceful, this does not mean that they are not prepared for a fight. Blue Tangs have toxic spines on either side of their caudal fins. These spines stand erect when the fish feels threatened, and as the Blue Tang thrashes about it can severely injure its target.

Blue Tang and Clownfish

Blue Tang and Clownfish can successfully live together under the right conditions. If you are planning on placing Blue Tang and Clownfish together, you will want to give them the largest possible tank that you can provide them with the minimum being 125 gallons. If they are housed in too small of a tank, you could have problems.

Blue Tang and Yellow Tang

It is possible to house these 2 species of Tangs together, but the success of doing so is  largely dependent on the amount of space that they are given. It is said that you need a minimum of a 200 gallon tank that is at least 6 feet long to house both Blue Tangs and Yellow Tangs together.

Blue Tang and Sailfin Tang

Both Blue Tang and Sailfin Tang enjoy the same water parameters, so there is no issue in housing them in the same aquarium as long as they have enough space. All species of Tang require lots of space to cohabitate. If they are not provided with enough space, then you can expect issues to arise between the 2 species.

Blue Tang and Purple Tang

If you are going to have any trouble housing any species of Tangs together, you will find it with the Purple Tang. It is the most aggressive Tang, and depending on the space you give them, you may or may not have issues. Use caution when housing Purple Tangs with Blue Tangs, and make sure to monitor your fish behavior for any problems.

What Are The Natural Predators of the Blue Tang?

Natural predators of the Blue Tang are larger carnivorous fish such as Tuna, Bar Jack, and Tiger Grouper.

Blue Tang Adaptation

Blue Tangs have 2 special spines that are situated next to the caudal fin. These spines are sharp,  and they are poisonous. When the Blue Tang feels threatened its spines will stand erect, and the fish will thrash about in hopes of injuring or scaring off the threat.

Are Blue Tang Endangered?

Blue Tangs are not considered an endangered species, but their natural habitats are often in danger.

Where Can I Find Blue Tang for Sale?

If you are looking to purchase Blue Tang fish for yourself, you will be able to purchase them online from breeders for around $90 each.