Purple Tang


Species : Surgeonfish
Scientific Name : Zebrasoma Xanthurum
Common Name : Purple tang, Yellow-tail tang
Distribution/Region Found : Waters of Sri-Lanka, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden
Size : 10 inches
Required Tank Size : 100 gallons (380 litres)
Life Span : 10 plus years
Environment : Saltwater
Predators : Tuna, Barracuda
Prey : Marine algae, seaweed, Mysid shrimp, Flake foods, Frozen brine
salt water purple tang fish - purple tang fish at the bottom of the fish tank with white pebbles with aquascaping in the background

purple tang aquarium aquascaping - image of purple tang reef fish with aquascaping rocksThe Purple tang AKA the yellow tail!

The purple tang, also known as the yellow-tail tang, is a blue-purple fish with a yellow tail and yellow accents along the pectoral fins. Its scientific name is Zebrasoma Xanthurum and it falls under the Surgeonfish species in the Acanthuridae family.

A saltwater fish, the purple tang is mainly found in the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and throughout waters off Sri Lanka. It typically lives alone but can occasionally be found in groups along the Southern Red Sea. The purple tang should be housed in an aquarium tank of at least 100 gallons as it can grow up to 10 inches as a full adult and enjoys open swimming.

How much does a purple tang cost as a pet?

Purple tangs are quite popular with fish owners as they are physically very attractive. Unfortunately though, due to the fact that purple tangs are not bred in captivity, buying a single purple tang can be quite expensive. A single purple tang can sell for anywhere between $75 to $150, while some of the more exotic breeds can sell for upwards of $250.

What fish can be put in the same aquarium as a purple tang?

Before choosing a tank mate for your pet fish, you need to consider that purple tangs are usually very aggressive to other tangs or any other fish of similar size and colour. However, if you do have a large tank, it is possible to accommodate more than two purple tangs as long as they are introduced into the tank at the same time.

Some fish that can be kept in the same aquarium tank as a purple tang include:

purple tang aquarium tank mate - Blue Green Chromis - image of several Blue Green Chromis swimming in aquarium with aquascaping

Blue-Green Chromis

The Blue-Green Chromis is a small colourful fish that is quite peaceful and is mostly found in groups of not less than five. Due to their placid nature, they are a great addition to the purple tang aquarium tank. As they tend to swim in groups, it’s highly unlikely that the purple tang would be inclined to attack them.



coral beauty angel fish - image of coral beauty angel fish great swimming near gold coloured aquascaping

Coral Beauty Angelfish

In terms of behaviour, the Coral Beauty Angelfish is very similar to the purple tang. It’s also a reef fish like the purple tang and is known to not get along with other Coral Beauty Angelfish or any fish similar in appearance. However it is quite peaceful with tankmates that don’t look anything like it, which makes it an acceptable companion for the purple tang.



purple tang aquarium tank mate - Melanurus Wrasse - image of Melanurus Wrasse - image of Melanurus Wrasse - image of Melanurus Wrasse swimming in aquarium with different colour aquascaping

Melanurus Wrasse

The Melanurus Wrasse is a very colourful fish with stunning markings. It can grow to around 5 inches long and, as a fast-moving fish, will add a tonne of personality and liveliness to your aquarium.

Interestingly, the Melanurus Wrasse always like to play it safe, and under no circumstance is it likely to bother any coral reefs that you might have in the tank.

This will result in it having very little contact with the purple tang, as they spend most of their precious time playing around in the coral reefs. All you need to have is a decent size sand base in your aquarium as the Melanurus Wrasse loves to bury itself in the sand. Such traits are what make it an excellent choice as a purple tang mate.


lyretail anthias for purple tang aquarium - image of lyretail anthias fish swimming in aquarium with dark background

Lyretail Anthias

The Lyretail Anthias is a very popular fish due to its amazing colours and lively nature. It grows to be around 5 inches tall and is usually found in groups of 5 to 8, but can also live as a single fish. Even though at times it is said to be somewhat territorial, it’s usually a very peaceful fish which allows it to get along well with other fish including the purple tang. Sadly though, the Lyretail Anthias is not a great choice for a beginner aquarium owner as it requires very specific water and feeding requirements and schedules.


great purple tang tank mate - clown fish - image of clown fish near the surface of an aquarium with aquascaping in the background


Similar to the purple tang, clownfish are usually very aggressive towards other clownfish but will not bother any other type of fish you might have in your aquarium. It is a very striking and colourful fish, which makes it a very beautiful addition to your aquarium tank. There are many species of the clownfish ranging from the Percula and Occelaris, to the Maroon and the Tomato, all of which can be great tank mates with your precious purple tang

Purple tang tank setup?

Tank requirements

Purple tangs are usually very agile swimmers and in order to make them feel as if they are not in captivity, you will need to provide them with a large space that’s at least 100 gallons (380 litres). This will help create the illusion that it is still in its natural habitat. You should also try to create an aquarium tank with a reef theme with a lot of hiding places as purple tangs are usually found in coral reefs and are quite playful.

The aquarium water should have a temperature of between 24°C to 28°C and a pH of 8.1 to 8.4. You will also need to ensure that the aquarium has sufficient normal lighting.

caring for a purple tang - image of large fish tank with rocky aquascaping and water filter on the leftIf you intend to have a purple tang aquarium tank, it is important that it meets the following requirements:

  • The minimum tank size should be 100 Gallons(380 litres)
  • Should be reef compatible
  • A pH of anywhere between 8.1 to 8.4
  • Temperature around 24°C to 28°C
  • Lots of hiding places
  • The water should be salty as the purple tang is a saltwater fish

How to care for a purple tang?

Taking care of a purple tang in an aquarium tank is fairly straightforward and achievable. As long as you provide an optimal environment and a nutritious diet the purple tang can live happily for a couple of decades.


Purple tangs are considered to be herbivores, although at times they can be said to be omnivores. When they are in their natural habitat along the coral reef or in the wild their favourite dish is usually algae. However, when in captivity they tend to consume more vegetables and protein-rich foods. If you intend to keep a purple tang as a pet then you should consider some of the following foods:

purple tang in reef aquarium - purple tang near bottom of aquarium with stones eating

  • Marine algae
  • Seaweed
  • Mysid shrimp
  • Flake foods
  • Frozen brine

To be able to meet the purple tangs’ full nutritional needs you will need to introduce vitamin C into their diet, which can be added in the form of dried pellets that have been soaked in liquid with garlic. Vitamin C is quite important for the purple tang fish as it helps prevent Lateral Line Erosion (LLC).


Purple tangs are usually non-aggressive towards other aquarium inhabitants, however, when placed in the same aquarium with other tangs or fish with the same body size and shape they can be quite territorial. For this particular reason, it’s recommended that if you intend to keep a purple tang as a pet you need to make sure that it doesn’t share the aquarium with other tangs or fish with a similar appearance.

purple tang fish with clown fish - image of purple tang fish in an aquarium nibbling on aquascaping with clown fish in blurred backgroundIt’s possible, within a very large aquarium, to have several purple tangs that would coexist peacefully and respect each others’ boundaries. In general, purple tangs tend to thrive in a reef setting. So if you are going to keep a purple tang it’s wise to create a reef theme within the aquarium.


During captivity, it’s next to impossible to breed two purple tangs as they are usually very aggressive and territorial around other tangs. It’s also very difficult to determine the gender of a purple tang just by looking at it which is why most aquarium owners or enthusiasts don’t even attempt to breed them. In large public aquariums with generous sized tanks, it might be possible to breed a purple tang as such huge tanks can recreate conditions that are similar to the purple tangs’ natural habitat.



Purple tangs are not known to be anymore susceptible to disease than other types of fish. However, due to the constant movement from one aquarium to another before reaching their final home they are likely to contract different germs and bacteria. In order to avoid introducing an infected or sick purple tang fish into your aquarium, it’s good practice to keep it in a separate tank for up to a week and monitor it. Once you are sure that it’s completely healthy and that it’s not bringing any bacteria, germs or viruses into your tank, you can gradually integrate it into your aquarium.

Can a purple tang be kept as a pet?

purple tang fish in reef aquarium - purple tang fish at the side of an aquarium with blurred background

Absolutely yes!

Purple tangs can be kept as pets in an aquarium tank and they are a great choice for any saltwater aquarium owners from beginners through to experts. The purple tang fish is usually a favourite for many people due to its attractive looks, along with being an excellent choice for reef-themed aquariums.

If you are looking to add a vibrant, energetic fish into your aquarium I would highly recommend the purple tang. The purple tang is an exuberant swimmer and there will be times when it will be toppling or bumping into rocks in your aquarium tank, only adding to your enjoyment as an owner!