Purple Tang: Facts, Lifespan, Care, Feeding, & Breeding

The purple tang fish is a beautiful and rare fish, but fairly expensive. Some purple tangs, also known as yellowtail tang or a yellowtail surgeonfish, sold for $120. Their coloring is what makes them attractive.

Purple tangs are often found in the West Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Maldives. Although these are their common homes, there have been reports of various other locations as well.

You might recognize these fish from the hit movie Finding Nemo. The forgetful Dory is a regal blue tang, which is quite similar to the purple tang.

Purple Tang Lifespan & Size

A full-size purple tang can grow up to 10 inches (25 cm). However, a captive purple tang won’t grow quite as big. They’re more likely to peak at about 8.7 inches (22 cm). With proper care and nutrition, your purple tang could live past 10 years.

Behaviour & Characteristics

Body Characteristics

The coloring of a purple tang is a dead giveaway. These purple and blue mixed fish have a bright yellow tail. They are usually covered with black spots on their head and down the top of their disk-shaped bodies. You will also notice little black horizontal stripes along the rest of the body. Their dorsal fins are relatively large.

Be careful when handling these fish though. They have a sharp spine known as a “scalpel” that they use when in defense or dominance mode. If you get cut, it is quite painful. The cut will swell and discolor and could lead to infection.

Behaviour & Attitude

These fish are fun to watch. They are very active, swimming around the tank in open water and darting in and out of rocks and coral. But once they are played out and ready for bed, they will find a crevice between rocks and coral to sleep at night.

Purple tangs can become very territorial, especially as they grow older. If you want more than one tang fish, it is best to introduce them to the same tank altogether. This gives each fish an equal opportunity to become comfortable with their new home. If you introduce a purple tang into an already established school of fish, they can become quite aggressive.

If you want a tank mate for your purple tang, try to go for a different breed of fish. These species are known to be aggressive to those similar to them. So it is not recommended to put a purple tang in the same tank as a yellow tang or blue tang. Be prepared for a fight if you do.

Purple Tang Feeding

Purple tangs are known to be herbivores. They are happy to graze along rocks and coral for algae in the ocean. But when in a tank, you will need to provide them with little more nutrients.

Dried algae are available to buy and recommended for their tank. You can place some under a rock, and they will go crazy for it. It’s entertaining to watch them try and tear it up.

Look for vitamin enriched flake food, especially with Vitamin C (this will help prevent diseases like Lateral Line Erosion). Frozen or live food is also acceptable like brine or mysid shrimp. Purple tangs will also eat everything you feed other fish. However, make sure their diet is very green based.

Make sure to feed them small meals around three times a day rather than larger meals less often. Purple tangs can also store fat in their body cavities so do not be alarmed if yours stops eating for a little bit.


Getting your purple tang acclimated to its new environment is a slow and challenging process. But once the fish is comfortable in the tank, they are quite easy to take care of. With proper nutrition, they are quite resilient against diseases.

However, if you do not keep up with proper tank care and diet, purple tangs are susceptible to LLE (also known as Lateral Line Disease), Marine Ich (also known as Ick) or Marine Velvet. Purple tangs do not produce as much slime on their bodies which make them more prone to illnesses.

Fish Covered With Ich Source

Ich is your most common illness purple tangs will get. This is a parasite that starts to grow in the gills of your fish. Some common symptoms are:

  • Small white spots mostly on their gills, fins and parts of their body;
  • Produce excessive slime;
  • Noticeable breathing problems;
  • Frayed looking fins;
  • Cloudy eyes;
  • Rubbing (itching) against objects in their tank;
  • Lethargic and loss of appetite.

However, Ich is easy to cure with a mixture of water changes and chemical treatments (usually either copper or formalin treatments). You can go on a more natural healing path by lowering the salinity of the water and changing at least half of the tank water every day for two weeks.

Try adding neon gobies (gobiosoma spp.) to your tank. These little guys are cleaner shrimp that will remove parasites from your purple tang’s body. This will help keep them clean.

Purple Tang Care

Before you get your purple tang, make sure you have the right tank requirements. Proper tank care is key for having a healthy fish.

Since these fish are so active, the larger the tank the better. Your tank should be able to hold at least 100 gallons (380 litres) of water. But bigger the better. They will thrive in warmer waters so keep the temperature between 74oF and 92oF (24oC – 28oC). Also, make sure the pH level is between 8.1 and 8.4. Devices are available to check the pH balance of the water. Remember, these are ocean marine animals, not fresh water.

Make sure the water is constantly moving and filtered. This will ensure the oxygen levels remain high enough in the water for your fish. Provide rocks and coral in your tank for feeding and sleeping.

Acclimation Process

How you introduce your purple tang to its new home is very important. Avoid the traditional method of putting the fish in a bag and floating it in the tank water. Instead, it is recommended to do a slow drip acclimation in a dark room.

Place the bag in the tank for 15 minutes to acclimate the water. Then empty the bag into a bucket, making sure the fish is fully submerged in water. Prop up the bucket if there is not enough water from the bag.

Attach an airline tube from the main tank to the bucket with your new fish in it. By adding knots in the tub, you will be able to adjust the amount of water that flows into the bucket. This process should be about an hour.

After this, keep your purple tang in a quarantine tank for at least two weeks and up to a month. Keep a careful watch on your fish and feed it regularly. It will need to develop its strength before entering its final home.

This process will take time, but if done properly, it will avoid shock to the fish and lower the chances of getting an illness.

Purple Tang Breeding

Determining the sex of your purple tang is difficult. Usually, a male purple tang will be a bit bigger than the female and will change color during the spawning process.

When two purple tangs are ready to breed, the male will seek out the female and perform shimmering movements. They will then swim as a pair in an arch shape to the surface of the water. That is when they release their gametes.