Purple Tang

Purple Tang Care

The Purple Tang (Zebrasoma xanthurum) is a highly sought-after saltwater fish species due to its striking coloration and unique appearance. However, it can be a challenging fish to care for, given its aggressive nature and susceptibility to diseases. This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about Purple Tang care, including diet, tank setup, behavior, and more. By understanding the specific needs of this beautiful fish, you can ensure a healthy and thriving environment for your Purple Tang.

Species Overview

Purple Tangs are members of the Surgeonfish or Acanthuridae family, with a total of 38 species in the Tang family. These fish are native to the coral reefs of the Red Sea but can also be found in smaller numbers in the Arabian Sea, the western Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, and the Persian Gulf. Purple Tangs are known for their beautiful coloration, which includes a vivid purple body, yellow tailfins, and occasional yellow-tipped pectoral fins.

Distribution and Habitat

Purple Tangs typically inhabit depths of around 65 feet below the ocean’s surface, where they spend their days actively grazing on algae and seeking food. At night, they retreat to the safety of the rocks and crevices in their environment. These fish are considered solitary omnivores with an aggressive nature, especially when they feel threatened or challenged by other Tangs in their territory.


The most notable feature of Purple Tangs is their vibrant purple bodies, which can sometimes exhibit a deep blue or indigo hue. Their eyes sit high on either side of their head, and they have extended snouts with 20 upper teeth and 22 lower teeth that resemble spatulas, allowing them to efficiently graze on microalgae and macroalgae. Purple Tangs also have lengthy dorsal and anal fins relative to their size, giving them an impressive appearance when fully extended.


In the wild, Purple Tangs can live for 30 to 45 years, while in captivity, they can live up to 10 years with proper care and optimal tank conditions. Their unique pattern of black dots on their bodies enables marine biologists to track individual fish’s lifespans easily.


Captive Purple Tangs typically reach an average size of 8 to 10 inches, with males being slightly larger than females. These fish reach maturity at three to five years of age and are often available for sale when they are around 2.5 inches long.

Purple Tang Care

Caring for a Purple Tang involves addressing challenges related to their size, maintaining water quality, and preventing disease. Most aquarists consider Purple Tangs moderately difficult to care for, and their price can be a significant factor when deciding if a Tang is a suitable addition to your aquarium.

Tank Size

Due to their large size and active nature, experts recommend a minimum tank size of 100 gallons for Purple Tangs. If you plan on keeping more than one Purple Tang, a much larger tank is necessary to avoid potentially fatal confrontations. However, most aquarists choose to keep only a single Tang, considering the cost and risk involved.

Related: Aquarium Stand: How To Choose The Right One

Water Parameters

To maintain a healthy environment for your Purple Tang, it’s essential to keep the following water parameters in check:

  • Water temperature: 74 to 82°F
  • pH levels: 8.1 to 8.4
  • Water hardness: 8 to 12 dKH
  • Specific gravity: 1.020 to 1.025

Tank Setup

A proper tank setup for Purple Tangs requires a balance between open water for swimming and rock formations with hiding spots. Ensure that your tank has enough space for these active fish to explore and that they have ample hiding places to retreat to at night. A fine sandy substrate is preferred, as it reduces the risk of injury when Purple Tangs dig in the tank floor during times of stress.


Standard tank lights are sufficient for Purple Tangs, as they spend most of their time in deeper waters in the wild. Using a timer to establish a consistent day-night cycle can help keep your Tang at ease.


Choose a filter capable of handling your tank’s volume, as Purple Tangs are sensitive to changes in water quality. A strong water current created by a powerhead can also improve your fish’s quality of life by providing resistance to swim against and enhancing oxygen availability in the water.


When introducing a Purple Tang to your tank, it’s crucial to acclimate them to the new conditions using the slow drip method for at least an hour. Afterward, place them in a quarantine tank for two weeks to one month to monitor for signs of disease before adding them to your main tank.

Are Purple Tangs Reef-Safe?

Yes, Purple Tangs are considered reef-safe and can even help manage hair algae growth among coral. They typically won’t damage coral polyps or disturb rock formations unless they are stressed or agitated. If you notice any such behavior, assess your fish’s nutrition and check for signs of disease.

Common Diseases and Prevention

Purple Tangs are more susceptible to diseases like Marine Ich, Head and Lateral Line Erosion, and parasitic infections due to their lack of protective slime. They are also more prone to stress, making it crucial to house them in large tanks with consistent water conditions.

Marine Ich

Marine Ich is a common infection in Purple Tangs, characterized by white splotches on their bodies, lethargy, and breathing problems. If you suspect your Tang has Marine Ich, quarantine them and begin treatment with over-the-counter anti-parasitic medication.

Head and Lateral Line Erosion

This disease results from malnutrition and causes the breakdown of tissue, leading to open wounds on the head or lateral parts of the body. Early detection and treatment with improved water quality, supplemental vitamins, and a nutrient-rich diet can help manage this condition.

Food and Diet

Purple Tangs have a primarily plant-based diet, with filamentous algae being their primary food source in the wild. In captivity, it’s essential to supplement their diet with additional algae and protein sources such as brine shrimp, protein-based flakes, and mysid shrimp. Provide enough food for two to three daily grazings, and monitor your fish’s body shape to ensure proper nourishment.

Behavior and Temperament

In captivity, Purple Tangs exhibit curiosity and active swimming behavior, often exploring every inch of their tank in search of food. They can be aggressive, especially when housed with other Tangs or similarly shaped fish. Ensure that your tank has adequate space for your Purple Tang to minimize stress and confrontations with tank mates.

Purple Tang Tank Mates

Despite their aggressive nature, Purple Tangs can coexist peacefully with many other reef fish, provided they have enough space. Avoid housing them with shy or passive species, as their active nature can stress and intimidate more docile tank inhabitants. Suitable tank mates for Purple Tangs include:

  • Blood Red Fire Shrimp
  • Blue-Green Chromis
  • Coral Beauty Angelfish
  • Foxface Rabbitfish
  • Lyretail Anthias
  • Majestic Angelfish
  • Neon Gobies
  • Skunk Cleaner Shrimp
  • Tomato Clownfish
  • Wrasses


Breeding Purple Tangs in a home aquarium is virtually impossible due to their broadcast spawning behavior and the difficulty in sexing these fish. Their limited geographic distribution and the challenges of commercial breeding contribute to their high cost in the aquarium trade.


Caring for a Purple Tang requires dedication to providing a healthy and stable environment. By maintaining proper water quality, offering a varied and nutritious diet, and understanding their behavior, you can create a thriving habitat for these beautiful fish. With the right care and attention, your Purple Tang can become a stunning centerpiece in your saltwater aquarium.

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