Powder Brown Tang

Powder Brown Tang: A Guide to Care, Diet, and Tank Setup

The Powder Brown Tang (Acanthurus japonicus), a striking saltwater fish with unique patterns and colors, can be an excellent addition to your saltwater aquarium. However, keeping these fish healthy and happy requires knowledge of their specific needs and a commitment to maintaining their environment. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about the Powder Brown Tang, from their appearance and natural habitat to their care, diet, and tank setup requirements.

Species Summary

Powder Brown Tangs are a type of Surgeonfish found in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, particularly off the coast of Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan. They inhabit reefs, lagoons, and seaside areas, typically swimming in clear water at depths of 16 to 25 feet. Known for their semi-aggressive behavior, Powder Brown Tangs are comfortable in both small groups and large schools.

Also referred to as Japanese Surgeonfish or Powder Black Surgeons, these active swimmers are herbivorous and possess unique behavioral quirks and immune vulnerabilities common to other Tang species. Caring for a Powder Brown Tang can be moderately challenging, but their natural algae-eating habits make them valuable for maintaining a clean and healthy tank environment.


The Powder Brown Tang features a flat body and oval-like shape characteristic of all Surgeonfish. Their primary color is brown, which can appear grayish under certain lighting conditions. They have a white mark extending from below each of their large eyes to their mouth, and yellow bands run along the top of their bodies and bellies, meeting at the caudal and creating a wishbone-like pattern.

The dorsal fin, which runs from the fish’s head to its tail, is a darker brown than the body and features an electric-blue edge. The pectoral and anal fins also exhibit the same blue edging. The tailfin showcases a blended brown and blue pattern, with the brown color near the body and the blue color near the ends. The tips of the tailfin taper to sharp points.


In the wild, Powder Brown Tangs can live for over 20 years, while their captive lifespan averages around seven years. Their longevity is often compromised by their poor immune systems. Juvenile Powder Browns have lighter brown bodies with yellow fins and lack the white stripes on their faces.

Average Size

The average size of a Powder Brown Tang is about 8 inches, with no significant size difference between males and females. They are considered one of the smaller members of the Tang family.

Powder Brown Tang Care

Caring for a Powder Brown Tang can be moderately difficult due to their need for consistent water conditions and active monitoring of their health. However, with proper acclimation and attention to their needs, these fish can thrive in captivity.

Expert Tip: When purchasing a Powder Brown Tang, always ask to observe the fish feeding. Appetite loss is an early sign of illness, and ensuring that the fish is healthy and comfortable with simulated feedings can help avoid future problems.

Tank Size

A minimum tank size of 125 gallons is required for a Powder Brown Tang. Longer tanks are preferable, as they provide more open space for swimming and better mimic the fish’s natural habitat. As with most fish, the larger the tank, the better.

Water Parameters

  • Water temperature: 73 to 78° F
  • pH levels: 8.1 to 8.5 pH
  • Water hardness: 8 to 12 dKH
  • Specific gravity: 1.021 to 1.026

Tank Setup

When setting up a tank for a Powder Brown Tang, it’s crucial to strike a balance between providing open water for swimming and creating hiding spots with live rock and other tank decorations. A sandy substrate is ideal, as Powder Brown Tangs will sift through the sand in search of algae.


A powerful filtration system capable of handling your tank’s volume and maintaining stable water conditions is essential for the health of your Powder Brown Tang. Additionally, investing in a quality powerhead will create a strong current and oxygenate the water, providing a more enjoyable environment for your active fish.


Acclimating a Powder Brown Tang to your tank can be a challenging process. They are more sensitive to changes in their environment than other Tang species, and ensuring a smooth transition is crucial for their well-being.

The slow drip method, performed over several hours, is the best way to acclimate your Powder Brown Tang to its new tank. Quarantining the fish in a separate, less active holding tank before introducing it to the main aquarium can also help minimize stress and ease the adaptation process.

Reef-Safe Fish

Powder Brown Tangs are considered reef-safe fish, as they will not harm coral polyps or invertebrates in your aquarium. However, their active swimming habits make it essential to secure coral and other tank decorations to prevent accidental damage.

Common Diseases & Prevention

Powder Brown Tangs lack the protective slime layer found on many other fish species, making them more susceptible to parasites such as Marine Ich. Early detection and treatment with over-the-counter anti-parasitics are crucial for managing this issue.

These fish are also prone to Head and Lateral Line Disease (HLLD), a condition caused by malnutrition that results in open wounds on the fish’s body or head. Early detection and increased feedings, as well as vitamin supplements, can help your fish recover from this potentially fatal disease.

Preventing illness in your Powder Brown Tang requires maintaining consistent water conditions and conducting regular water changes. Monitoring your fish’s behavior and ensuring a varied, nutritious diet is also vital for overall wellness.

Food & Diet

Powder Brown Tangs are herbivores that primarily consume marine plants and algae, particularly benthic algae. They prefer multiple small meals throughout the day, and having live rock in your tank can encourage natural algae growth for them to graze on.

Supplementing their diet with plant material or nori using a feeding clip allows your Powder Brown Tang to graze as it would in the wild, reducing stress and promoting contentment. They will also accept plant-based pellets, which can add variety to their diet.

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Behavior & Temperament

Though considered one of the more peaceful Tang species, Powder Brown Tangs can display aggression when provoked or when defending their territory. They are active swimmers and grazers, requiring live rocks and feeding clips to maintain proper nutrition.

Due to their aggressive behavior towards other Tangs, it’s best to keep Powder Brown Tangs alone in a tank. However, they can coexist peacefully with other fish species, making them a suitable addition to a community tank without other Tangs.

Powder Brown Tang Tank Mates

When selecting tank mates for your Powder Brown Tang, it’s essential to choose species that won’t provoke aggression or compete with them for food. Suitable tank mates include:

  • Banggai Cardinalfish
  • Bicolor Angelfish
  • Cleaner Shrimp
  • Diamond Gobies
  • Engineer Gobies
  • Fairy Wrasses
  • Flame Angelfish
  • Marine Bettas
  • Ocellaris Clownfish
  • Pajama Cardinalfish
  • Tomato Clownfish


Captive breeding of Powder Brown Tangs is nearly impossible in a home aquarium, as they are open-water breeders that release their genetic material into the water to drift and combine. Larvae develop at the ocean surface before maturing and returning to the reef.

The difficulty in determining the sex of Powder Brown Tangs and the large tank size required to house more than one individual make home breeding unfeasible. While commercial breeding of these fish is possible, most available specimens are wild-caught.


Caring for a Powder Brown Tang may seem challenging at first, but with the proper environment, diet, and attention, you can enjoy the beauty and charm of this fish for many years. By providing consistent care and monitoring their well-being, you can offer a comfortable and happy home for your Powder Brown Tang. This comprehensive guide should serve as a valuable resource in your journey to care for these remarkable fish. Good luck, and enjoy the vibrant colors and playful personalities of your Powder Brown Tangs!

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