The Blue Tang fish – or, more popularly known as Dory. The lovable (and forgetful!) blue, black, and yellow fish was made famous in the hit Disney/Pixar movies Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, voiced by the remarkable Ellen DeGeneres.
With the release of these films came a love for the Blue Tang from saltwater aquarium enthusiasts.
Scientifically known as the Paracanthurus Hepatus, this species is also called the Blue Hippo Tang, the Regal Tang, the Royal Blue Tang, the Flagtail Surgeonfish, the Pacific Regal Blue Tang, and the Palette Surgeonfish.
The Blue Tang fish would make a beautiful addition to any saltwater aquarium. Broken down here is a guide, not only to the fish in general but also for the care of the Blue Tang in your own aquarium at home.
Blue Tang Facts
As the only member of the genus Paracanthurus, they can be found in the wild in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, enjoying the tropical waters rich with life.
The Blue Tang lifespan is fairly good for a fish, allowing them to live anywhere from eight to twelve years. This species has a royal blue body, a yellow tail, and a black “palette” design on their side.
They can sometimes be confused with the Atlantic species, also called the Acanthurus Coeruleus, or the Atlantic Blue Tang, which has a lighter blue body along with larger dorsal and anal fins.
Blue Tangs located in the west-central Indian Ocean also have yellow on their lower bodies.
Size and Appearance
The Blue Tang has a relatively flat shape, like a pancake, with a round body and a pointed nose. Its scales are very small, giving the illusion of lacking them altogether.
Here’s something a lot of people don’t know about the Blue Tang: they can hurt you! This is worth considering when you purchase your Blue Tang.
They have a sharp spine, called a caudal spine, on their tail that will stand erect, which they use for self-defence.
This spine contains a toxin that can cause severe pain. However, handlers and aquarists go years without ever getting stung. Who knew Dory was actually venomous?
How Much Does a Blue Tang Fish Cost?
The cost of a Blue Tang can depend on a variety of factors; where you buy the fish, as well as the size, are the main two.
A smaller Blue Tang (i.e. a younger fish) generally cost around $25, whereas larger fish can be $70-$80 each.
Blue Tang Care
Blue Tang Care, while fairly straightforward, has a few key requirements. When it comes to their living environment, there are some things that can’t be skimped on.
If you bought your Blue Tang and it was relatively small, don’t be fooled. That fish will grow! The Blue Tang can reach up to twelve inches in the wild.
They are one of the biggest fish available for tanks, so it is imperative that your saltwater aquarium be the proper size – a minimum of 100 gallons. However, 200 gallons is optimal, especially if you have more than one Blue Tang.
These guys love their swimming space! However, it’s recommended you never get more than two at a time, otherwise, you’ll need an amazingly large tank!
When it comes to the tank environment, especially for tropical fish, your tank must stay warm! That means you’ll need to install a heater in your tank, if you don’t already have one.
The optimum temperature for the water is between 76-80°F, so a thermometer is recommended.
Now, it’s also possible for your tank to be too hot. This means there won’t be enough oxygen in the water for your fish.
How can you tell? Besides reading your tank thermometer, if the fish are constantly swimming to the surface and gasping for air, this means you need to cool the water down.
A simple method is to invest in a fan for your tank. They are relatively cheap and simple to install. Most of them just hook over the side of the tank! Easy peasy!
Blue Tang fish like open space to swim, as well as reef area for protection and rest. Your tank space should reflect this, making sure your reef corals and other decorations don’t reach upwards too high.
Give Dory the room she needs to just keep swimming!
When it comes to the water in your tank, you can’t skimp here. Just dumping table salt into tap water isn’t enough to make the right consistency of saltwater for your aquarium.
Specific parameters must be met. While it is possible to mix your own saltwater for your tank, you can also buy it from most pet stores.
Once your water is established, there are some things that will need to be maintained in order to keep your aquarium thriving and healthy.
This includes monitoring the levels of nitrate, ammonia, nitrite, calcium, pH, alkalinity, phosphate, and salinity. Each one of these has specific levels that need to be maintained.
Ammonia occurs in your tank from… well, to put it bluntly, fish pee, as well as uneaten fish food rotting in the tank. Your optimal levels of ammonia are nothing – or as close to zero as possible.
This means you need to have a fantastic, fully-functional, biological filter. Nitrite levels should be as low as possible, and if your filter is working properly, they will be.
Calcium levels should be between 380-420 ppm (parts per million). Calcium is essential for the health of your coral, so it’s important to keep the levels where they should be.
It’s important that the pH of your tank remains as stable as possible. Dramatic shifts in pH levels are just as bad for your fish as bad pH levels in general. The ideal pH for a reef aquarium is 8.1-8.4.
Alkalinity levels for your tank should be 8-12 dkh (degrees of karbonate hardness). Alkalinity should remain stable as well because this helps your corals grow!
Phosphate acts as a fertilizer for algae in your aquarium. Keeping the levels below 0.2 ppm would be optimal.
The way you measure the salinity of your aquarium water is to measure the specific gravity of the water, as a proxy for the salinity. This is because it’s so easy to be measured. Your specific gravity should be at 1.025, for optimal reef health.
So you have your Blue Tang and you’ve brought them home. The next step is to place them in a quarantine tank before introducing them to your display tank.
The Blue Tang is very susceptible to marine parasites and what’s called ich (pronounced ‘ick’). It’s best to find out, before you infect the other fish in your tank, whether your Blue Tang might be ill. This means, unfortunately, a quarantine tank.
Keeping a Blue Tang in a separate tank for up to a month before introducing them to your main tank may seem harsh, but it’s for the best that you don’t skip this step.
A parasite infestation could spell disaster for your entire set-up.
Keeping your tank clean and healthy is imperative for the wellbeing of not only your Blue Tang, but all the species in your aquarium.
The best thing you can do for a tank would be to get a sump setup, a good protein skimmer, and an algae turf scrubber.
The good thing about a sump setup? It has the capability of having equipment added, such as auto-top offs and controllers, which is something you might like to invest in to keep your tank as stable as you can.
Feeding Your Blue Tang
Blue Tang fish are grazers. This means they eat a LOT. They’re omnivorous, so they have both a plant- and animal-based diet, including algae, seaweed, krill, Mysis shrimp, and brine shrimp.
Nori (a Japanese name for edible seaweed) is a great kind of algae feed. The price varies depending on the brand you choose, and they’re available in flakes and sheets.
A cheap way of using Nori is to buy edible Nori from your local supermarket. This is generally a cheaper alternative of buying from the pet store. However, when going this route, you must ensure that the only ingredient is seaweed, without any added salt.
When buying Nori sheets, a feeding clip can be used to prevent the seaweed from floating around your tank. Sometimes it takes a while for the Blue Tang to get used to eating this way, but it’s a surefire method for keeping your tank clean.
Flake food is an option as well. New Life Spectrum pellets offer a well-balanced diet for your Blue Tang, as well as Elos sVM2 Marine Fish Food. This is some of the best food you can buy for your fish, and it’s used by breeders around the world.
Under no circumstances should you feed your Blue Tang lettuce. It offers very little nutrition and should never be given to your fish.
Since nutrition is such a key aspect of keeping your Blue Tang happy and healthy, why not go the extra mile for them and get the best food available?
Blue Tang Tank Mates
When it comes to Blue Tang Fish, they’re fairly tame and get along with most other species. Except that is… when it comes to each other.
They may fight with other Blue Tangs to establish territory. This means if there are multiple Blue Tangs in a single tank, you need to make sure there’s enough room for them. The bigger the tank, the better.
If you want multiple Tangs, it would be best to introduce them all to the tank at the same time, so there won’t be any established territories for them to fight over.
Here’s a video showing more information on Blue Tang care.
Admittedly, who hasn’t watched Finding Nemo or Finding Dory and wished they had Dory in their aquarium? With the right research and preparation, you can enjoy your Blue Tang for years to come.