Purple Tang: A Colorful and Fascinating Reef Fish

If you’re an aquarium enthusiast looking to add a vibrant pop of color to your marine tank, look no further than the stunning Purple Tang! Known for their striking blue to purple body and bright yellow tail fins, this captivating fish is sure to steal the spotlight in any reef setup.

Purple Tangs, scientifically known as Zebrasoma xanthurum, originally hail from the coral-rich waters of the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Sri Lanka. Besides their beauty, these interesting creatures have unique care requirements that are essential to know for their long, happy life in your tank. So, let’s dive in and learn more about what makes these fish so special and how you can best accommodate them in your aquatic ecosystem.

Species Overview

The Purple Tang (Zebrasoma xanthurum) is a beautiful and unique species, valued by many aquarists for its vibrant colors and striking appearance.

Property Information
Scientific name Zebrasoma xanthurum
Common names Purple Tang
Distribution Red Sea, Indian Ocean
Size 8-10 inches (20-25 cm)
Lifespan Up to 10 years
Diet Herbivore: Algae, Seaweed
Temperament Semi-aggressive
Min. Tank Size 100 gallons (379 liters)
Temperature 72-78°F (22-26°C)
pH 8.1-8.4
Water Hardness 8-12 dKH
Care Level Moderate
Filtration/Water Flow High
Water Type Saltwater
Breeding Egg-scattering; not common in home aquariums
Breeding Difficulty Difficult
Compatibility Reef-safe; can be aggressive towards other Tangs

Please ensure that you take all these factors into consideration when setting up your aquarium for Purple Tang, as they have specific requirements to maintain a healthy environment. Remember, they can be territorial and should not be kept with other Tang species, especially in small aquariums. Make sure to provide them with a proper diet containing algae to ensure their colorful appearance stays vibrant and healthy. Happy fishkeeping!

Purple Tang Basics

Origins and Natural Habitat

Purple Tangs (Zebrasoma xanthurum) are members of the Surgeonfish or Acanthuridae family, with 38 total species of Tangs. They are native to the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. These fish thrive in the coral reefs with abundant algae and clear, shallow waters.

Size and Shape

As an adult, the Purple Tang can reach a size of about 10 inches (25 cm). They have a distinctive body shape with large dorsal and anal fins, which, when extended, give the fish the appearance of being as tall as it is long. A caudal spine, also known as a scalpel, is present in these Tangs, similar to other species of Surgeonfish.

Color and Markings

A Purple Tang’s beauty lies in its rich, saturated shade of purple, ranging from blue to indigo variations. In addition, they have brilliant yellow highlights on their tails and, occasionally, pectoral fins. Dark freckles on their face extend down the body, forming a light stripe formation.


With proper care and a suitable environment, a Purple Tang can live up to 10 years in an aquarium. Maintaining a stable and consistent water quality, providing a well-balanced diet, and minimizing stressors are essential aspects to ensure your Purple Tang thrives in your aquarium.

Diet and Feeding

Purple Tangs are primarily herbivores and prefer a diet rich in plant matter. To ensure your Purple Tang remains healthy and vibrant, provide them with a variety of high-quality algae-based food options.

Feeding them a mix of fresh and frozen algae-rich foods such as spirulina, nori, and sea vegetables will help satisfy their nutritional requirements. Remember to also supplement their diet with occasional meaty treats like brine shrimp or mysis shrimp for a well-rounded diet.

It’s important to feed your Purple Tang multiple times throughout the day, as they are persistent grazers. Providing a constant source of algae by attaching sheets of nori to a veggie clip will encourage their natural grazing habits and support their overall well-being.

Lastly, ensure that you maintain optimal water quality and monitor the water parameters regularly to provide a suitable environment for your Purple Tang to thrive and avoid potential dietary issues.

Behavior and Temperament

Purple Tangs are known for their unique and striking coloration, but it’s important to understand their behavior and temperament as well. These fish tend to be more aggressive than other Tang species, so it’s crucial to carefully consider their tank mates.

In general, Purple Tangs prefer a reef environment with ample hiding spots and sufficient space to swim around. They are territorial creatures, so providing them with enough room to establish their territory helps prevent aggression.

You can try to balance out their aggressive nature by including peaceful, non-territorial tank mates like schooling fish or small invertebrates. Avoid housing Purple Tangs with other fish of similar size, shape, and aggressiveness, as this can lead to conflict in the tank.

It’s worth noting that Purple Tangs are also active swimmers, so you should ensure your tank has adequate water flow to accommodate their needs. By paying attention to their behavior and preferences, you’ll be able to provide a comfortable and harmonious environment for your Purple Tang and its tank mates.

Care and Tank Requirements

Tank Size

To keep your Purple Tang healthy and happy, you should provide a tank with a minimum capacity of 100 gallons (379 liters). Keep in mind that these fish can grow up to 8-10 inches (20.3-25.4 cm) in size and require plenty of swimming space.

Water Parameters

Maintaining the proper water parameters will ensure your Purple Tang thrives. Here are the critical parameters you should monitor and maintain:

  • Water temperature: Keep the temperature between 72-78°F (22-26°C)
  • pH level: Maintain a pH level between 8.1-8.4
  • Water hardness: Aim for a specific gravity of 1.020-1.025

Tank Setup and Decorations

Creating a natural and comfortable environment in your tank is essential for your Purple Tang’s well-being.

  1. Substrate: Opt for a fine sand substrate to mimic their natural habitat.
  2. Live rock: Provide multiple hiding spots using live rock. This will help reduce stress and promote a sense of security for your fish.
  3. Reef-safe: Purple Tangs are reef-safe, meaning they are compatible with corals and other invertebrates.
  4. Lighting: Moderate to strong lighting is preferable for these fish, as it promotes algae growth, which can be a food source for them.

Filtration and Aeration

A proper filtration system is crucial to maintaining a healthy tank for your Purple Tang. Consider using a combination of mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration to remove waste, impurities, and harmful substances. Additionally, ensure good water movement in your tank for aeration purposes. This helps prevent dead spots and promotes oxygen exchange, further contributing to a healthy tank environment for your Purple Tang.

Suitable Tank Mates

When choosing tank mates for your Purple Tang, it’s essential to keep in mind their active nature and temperament. To ensure a harmonious environment, you’ll want to avoid shy and passive species, which could easily become stressed and intimidated. Stick to fish and invertebrates that can keep up with your Purple Tang’s energy and won’t be bullied.

Ideal tank mates for the Purple Tang include:

  • Yellow Tangs
  • Wrasses
  • Chromis
  • Cardinals
  • Clownfish
  • Large Angels
  • Frogspawn Corals
  • Blue Tangs.

On the other hand, you should avoid keeping Purple Tangs with:

  • Acanthurus
  • Bristletooth Tangs
  • Zebrasoma.

Some solid options for tank mates are:

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

By thoughtfully selecting your Purple Tang’s tank mates, you’ll create a balanced and enjoyable living space for all your aquarium’s inhabitants.


Breeding Purple Tangs in your home aquarium is nearly impossible due to their broadcast spawning behavior and the need for large commercial tanks for successful mating. Additionally, Purple Tangs are hard to sex, making it quite challenging to create a breeding pair.

Your efforts to breed Purple Tangs might be hindered by their small geographic concentration and the difficulty of commercial breeding, which also contribute to the high cost of these stunning fish. It’s essential to know that breeding Purple Tangs in captivity is exceptionally difficult and requires expertise.

Furthermore, you should be aware that Purple Tangs are territorial and contentious around other tangs. This characteristic makes it tough to keep them together in the same tank, not only as a breeding pair but even in a community of different fish species. It’s crucial to consider their temperament when planning your aquarium setup, especially if you have ambitions of breeding these beautiful but challenging fish.

Common Diseases and Treatments

Marine ich is a common disease that affects Purple Tangs. You might notice small white spots on their body, rapid breathing, and lethargy. To treat this condition, consider using copper-based medication in a separate quarantine tank to avoid harming other tank inhabitants.

Another disease to watch out for is fin rot, which manifests as fraying or discolored fins. Maintaining good water quality is essential to prevent this infection. If it occurs, antibiotic treatments can help heal your Purple Tang.

Lastly, flukes are parasitic flatworms that can cause irritation, inflammation, and breathing difficulties in your fish. You can eliminate flukes with specialized anti-parasitic medications available at aquarium stores.

In general, it is crucial to maintain a healthy environment for your Purple Tang, including proper water parameters, adequate filtration, and nutrition. Preventive care is the best approach to ensure your fish stay disease-free.

Frequently Asked Questions

How aggressive is a purple tang?

Purple tangs can be somewhat aggressive, especially when defending their territory in your aquarium. They might show aggressive behaviors such as chasing or nipping at other fish. However, providing ample space and hiding spots, and having compatible tank mates, can help reduce their aggression.

Are purple tangs difficult to maintain?

Yes, purple tangs can be quite challenging to maintain, as they require specific tank conditions and diets. They need a high level of water quality, appropriate lighting, and a diet rich in vegetables, algae, and other plant materials. This requires careful monitoring and maintenance on your part to ensure they remain happy and healthy.

Are Purple Tangs reef safe?

Yes, purple tangs are considered reef safe. They are known to coexist well with most corals and invertebrates found in a reef aquarium. However, be mindful of their aggressive tendencies when choosing tank mates, as they may not get along with all other reef inhabitants.

What is the feeding frequency of purple tangs?

You should feed your purple tang multiple small meals throughout the day, ideally 2-3 times daily, ensuring that their diet is high in algae and plant materials. This will help them maintain their natural grazing behavior and their overall health.

What tank size is suitable for purple tangs?

A minimum tank size of 100 gallons (379 liters) is recommended for a purple tang due to their need for ample swimming space and hiding spots, as well as to accommodate their territorial instincts. A larger tank will also help to reduce any potential conflicts with other tank inhabitants.

Which tankmates are compatible with purple tangs?

When choosing tank mates for your purple tang, it’s important to select non-aggressive species that have similar water requirements. Some compatible tankmates include clownfish, cardinalfish, blennies, and wrasses. However, keep in mind the purple tang’s territorial behavior, and always observe your tank inhabitants closely to ensure a harmonious marine environment.