Sailfin Tang
Sailfin Tang

Sailfin Tang

Zebrasoma veliferum

Sailfin Tang

adult Sailfin Tang
Adult Sailfin Tang

Zebrasoma veliferum is known under several different English names, such as Sailfin tang, Eastern sailfin tang, Pacific sailfin tang, Sail fish tang, Ringed tang, Purple-lined tang, Pacific sailfin surgeonfish, and Pacific sail-fin surgeonfish.

Zebrasoma veliferum has not been evaluated for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Geographical range, habitat and habits

The Sailfin tang lives in the Pacific Ocean and Western Indian Ocean, from 29°N to 25°S, and from 33°e to 140°w.   

In the Pacific Ocean, the Sailfin tang is found from Indonesia to the Hawaiian and Tuamoto islands, north to southern Japan, south to the southern Great Barrier Reef, New Caledonia, and Rapa Island. In the Western Indian Ocean it can be encountered in the waters off Mozambique. In other parts of the Indian Ocean you will instead find its close relative Zebrasoma desjardinii.

The Sailfin tang inhabits lagoons and seaward reefs from the lower surge zone down to 30 meters / 100 feet. Juveniles are solitary creatures that prefer to stay hidden among rocks or corals in shallow and sometimes turbid reefs. They appreciate coral rich areas with strong currents. Adults live singly or in pairs, and they can also be found schooling in outer areas.

Size and appearance

This species is one of the largest members of the genus Zebrasoma. The largest scientifically measured Sailfin tang was 40.0 cm / 15.7 in.  

The body if the Sailfin tang is disc-shaped with a much elevated dorsal fin and a big anal fin. It has an extended snout. Compared to the other members of the genus Zebrasoma, the Sailfin tang has larger but fewer pharyngeal teeth. On each side of the caudal peduncle, there is a single sharp spine (the so called scalpel) which is used for defence and to establish dominance. When the fish is not using its scalpel, it will be folded down inside a groove.

The Sailfin tang is decorated with broad pale yellow bands that alternate with darker bands over the body. The bending extends into both dorsal and anal fins. On the darker bands, you can see yellow dots and stripes. The caudal fin is yellow.  The head of the fish is white and adorned with yellow dots. A dark band with yellow dots runs through the eye and another dark band with dots is located right behind the eye. 

Juvenile specimens look similar to the adult fish, but with more yellow colouring.

Sailfin tang care

The Sailfin tang needs a big aquarium and should not be housed in aquariums smaller than 100 gallons / 375 litres. A juvenile specimen can be kept in a 75 gallon / 285 litres tank. The aquarium where you house your Sailfin tang must contain plenty of open water for swimming as well as a lot of nook and crannies that will serve as hiding spots for the fish. Including Acroporid coral skeletons is recommended.

Compared to the other members of the genus Zebrasoma the Sailfin tang is a hardy and tolerant species. Powerful water movements and a high oxygen level is however very important. Keep the water temperature at 74 -82° F (23 - 28° C). The recommended pH-value is 8.1-8.4 and the specific gravity should be kept at 1.020-1.025. For specimens collected in the Red Sea, the specific gravity should be increased to 1.025-1.027.

The Sailfin Tang can be kept in a community aquarium as long as it is added last. Keeping more than one Sailfin tang is seldom a good idea unless you have a huge and cleverly decorated aquarium. Housing the Sailfin tang with tangs from other species can also lead to excessive violence. If you absolutely must house more than one member of the genus Zebrasoma, purchase an established group and introduce all of them at the same time.

The Sailfin tang is considered rather reef safe, but it may devour certain invertebrates. It can be a good idea to glue down the corals because this fish may inadvertently topple corals while swimming. 

Compared to other surgeonfishes the Sailfin tang is fairly resistant towards skin parasites. It is also more tolerant of cupper based medications. You can decrease the risk of serious skin disease by adding cleaner species to the aquarium, e.g. cleaner shrimp or Neon Gobies (Gobiosoma sp.).

 Be careful when you handle your Sailfin tang because the spines can cause painful wounds that may lead to discoloration and swelling. The pain is known to last for hours and there is a high risk of infection.

Feeding Sailfin tang

In the wild, the Sailfin tang feeds chiefly on leafy macroalgae. Natural algae growth should be encouraged in the aquarium, since this makes it possible for the fish to carry out its natural grazing behaviour. Naturally algae is however rarely enough to keep a Sailfin tang well-fed in captivity and it is therefore best to supplement with fresh or dried algae (can be purchased in oriental shops), blanched leafy vegetables, boiled carrots, and high-quality flakes or pellets rich in vitamin A and C. You can also grow your own algae at home. Once in a while, your fish should be given some meaty food, e.g. mysid shrimps and brine shrimps. In the wild, the fish will ingest tiny animals living in the algae.

The Sailfin tang should be fed many small servings instead of just one or two large meals per day. Ideally provide your fish with something to nibble on at all times, e.g. by placing nori or blanched lettuce in a clothes-pin inside the aquarium.

If your Sailfin tang refuses to eat, check the water quality, carry out a water change and try to entice it with fresh algae. A well fed fish will have stored fat in its body cavities and can therefore survive limited periods of non-feeding.   

Breeding Sailfin tang

Sexing Sailfin tangs based on outer appearance is hard. The male fish does however tend to grow bigger than the female.

As far as we know, the Sailfin tang has not been successfully bred in aquariums.

Surgeonfish - Tang Articles:

Achilles Surgeonfish – Acanthurus achilles
Atlantic Blue Tang – Acanthurus coeruleus
Blue Hippo Tang – Paracanthurus hepatus
Chevron Tang – Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis
Clown Surgeonfish – Acanthurus lineatus
Convict Surgeonfish – Acanthurus triostegus
Desjardinii Tang – Zebrasoma desjardinii
Kole Tang – Ctenochaetus strigosus
Mimic Surgeonfish – Acanthurus pyroferus
Naso Tang – Naso lituratus
Orangeshoulder Surgeonfish – Acanthurus olivaceus
Powder Blue Tang – Acanthurus leucosternon
Powder Brown Tang – Acanthurus japonica
Purple Tang – Zebrasoma xanthurum
Scopas Tang – Zebrasoma scopas
Whitecheek Surgeonfish – Acanthurus nigricans
Yellow Tang – Zebrasoma flavescens


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