orange shoulder tang

Orange shoulder tang is known by various names including Orangebar Tang, Orange Band Surgeonfish, Orange Tang, and Orange-Epaulette Tang.

In their juvenile stage, these fish are entirely yellow, featuring a subtle blue band along their anal and dorsal fins. As they grow, they develop a distinctive orange band above their pectoral fins, often referred to as their shoulder. Adult Orange Shoulder Tangs exhibit a two-tone grey coloration with a striking orange flash across their shoulder, bordered by blue. Their fins also display a blue edging, adding to their vibrant appearance.

These stunning fish can grow to a considerable size, so they should be housed in a suitably spacious aquarium. They utilize every inch of the tank, enjoying open swimming areas while also needing plenty of hiding spots for when they feel the need to retreat.

Tank Requirements & Facts

  • Minimum tank size: 180 Gallons (965 Litres) [A massive tank!]
  • Prone to disease: Yes, susceptible to Ich (Ick) and HLLE (Head & Lateral Line Erosion)
  • Beginner Compatible: With caution
  • Adult Size: 14 inches (35.5 cm) [Hence the need for the massive tank!]
  • Reef Compatible: With caution; they must be well-fed and will graze on diatoms, algae, etc., throughout the day.
  • Predator Tank Compatible: Suitable once they reach a larger size
  • Care Level: Requires some special attention
  • pH: 8.1 to 8.4
  • Temperature: 24°C to 28°C
  • Preferred Tank Level: All levels
  • Hiding places: Plenty required
  • Number to a tank: Best kept singly. Can be housed with other Tangs with caution. Generally safe with invertebrates and smaller inhabitants.
orange shoulder tang


These fish have specific feeding requirements. They spend their day grazing on sand beds and rocks, and their diet should include a mix of frozen, live, and algae-based foods.

  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Feeding Needs: A varied diet, predominantly consisting of vegetable-based foods, is essential to prevent the onset of HLLE.
  • Feeding Behavior: They are fast eaters, so ensure you provide enough food for the entire tank, not just the tangs.
  • Grazing Habits: They will graze on algae, seaweeds, diatoms, detritus, and filamentous algae throughout the day and will readily accept other foods during feeding times.
  • Food Types: Live foods, frozen foods, flake, and nori are all appreciated by these fish.


Place your fish in a bucket and drip acclimate for about 45 minutes at a rate of 3 drips per second. This process will align the fish’s water parameters with those of your tank.

After drip acclimation, use a net to gently transfer the fish into your tank. Avoid adding any of the original water from the fish’s container into your aquarium.

Ensure that your aquarium has a tightly fitting lid, especially after introducing the new fish. These fish are known jumpers and are more likely to jump when first introduced to a new environment.

Can you keep the Orange Shoulder Tang with other Tangs ?

These stunning fish are less aggressive and boisterous compared to most Surgeonfish (Tangs). They are generally compatible with most inhabitants typically found in mixed reef aquariums. As long as you have a sufficiently large and well-established tank, these fish should integrate smoothly and not cause any issues.

orange shoulder tang

Description of the Orange Shoulder Tang

There’s no mistaking where the Orange Shoulder Tang got its name – as long as you’re looking at an adult. Juveniles, however, often slide under the radar or get mistaken for another fish entirely. These youngsters sport vibrant yellow scales with a touch of blue on their anal and dorsal fins. You won’t see even a hint of the orange slash on their shoulder until they mature. This distinctive mark starts to appear when they reach around 2.5-3 inches (6.4-7.6 cm) in length, and it’s also when their yellow shade begins to shift to a duskier tone.

Adult Orange Shoulder Tangs exhibit a grayish-blue or brownish-olive body color, though they retain the blue highlights on their fins. And, of course, they display the deep orange slash trimmed in purple-black on their shoulders. While they may not be as bright or dazzling as some other tang species, they still stand out beautifully in a healthy reef display. Under the right lighting, their two-tone gray can transform into a stunning shade of silver.

Like all members of the surgeonfish group, the Orange Shoulder Tang has a “scalpel” tucked into the base of its tail. Although smaller than those found in species like the Naso and Achilles Tangs, it still serves as an effective defensive weapon. Handling these fish carelessly can result in a cut, which, while seemingly minor, can lead to serious infection. Always handle your Orange Shoulder Tang with caution, going slow and observing standard precautions to avoid injury and potential complications.

Orange Shoulder Tang Lifespan

Orange Shoulder Tangs are found throughout the Pacific, from Hawaii to the East Indies, darting in and out of the surge zones of their favorite reefs. They typically leave these areas only when a cyclone (the Pacific’s term for a hurricane) disrupts the reef’s water, filling it with sediment. These large members of the surgeonfish group are accomplished grazers, thriving in healthy reef systems. In their natural habitats, some individuals have been recorded living up to 35 years! However, life in captivity presents unique challenges for the Orange Shoulder Tang, and a lifespan of 5-10 years is more realistic within an aquarium setting.

Creating the Ideal Orange Shoulder World

The age and size of an Orange Shoulder Tang determine its habitat preferences as you journey from Hawaii to Polynesia and Micronesia. Juveniles, smaller and yellow, tend to inhabit shallow, sandy reefs. As they grow, they migrate to the surge zones where oxygen levels are higher. Here, plankton abundance increases due to turbulent waters, attracting the fish with changing tides. Coral formations in this area offer ample grazing territory and potential retreats from predators along the drop-off.

Replicating a surge zone within a home aquarium presents challenges, which is why Orange Shoulder Tangs are often found in commercial settings. However, setting up powerheads in at least one area of the tank can create an “exercise” zone where they can swim against the current, mimicking natural behaviors without straining other tank inhabitants.

Maintaining an appropriate balance between grazing space, open sand, and caves for hiding is crucial. Orange Shoulder Tangs require open swimming space to roam freely, but also need room to forage and pick at live rock. Providing caves or crevices for hiding and sleeping is essential for reducing stress, especially as they tend to spook easily. Ensuring that structures accommodate both juvenile and adult fish is vital for their well-being and happiness.

Orange Shoulder Tang Diet

Orange Shoulder Tangs are specialized omnivores with a diverse diet. They primarily feed on filamentous algae, diatoms, and detritus they pick up from the sand. Therefore, it’s crucial to strike a balance in your tank décor between open sand areas and live rock, providing ample opportunities for them to find various food sources.

However, algae reigns supreme on their menu. Without some algae in their diet, issues may arise. While maintaining a patch of algae in your tank can help, it likely won’t suffice unless you have a significant algae problem. Therefore, supplementing their diet with additional sources is essential for their health and well-being. Consider incorporating the following into their diet at least three times a week:

  • Dried marine origin algae
  • Nori attached to a veggie clip
  • Spirulina-based commercial foods

By including algae supplementation, you’ll boost their immune system, mitigate potential aggression problems, and ensure your Orange Shoulder Tang maintains its vibrant appearance.

orange shoulder tang

Orange Shoulder Tang Behavior and Tank Mates

Compared to most tang species, the Orange Shoulder Tang is a peaceful addition to aquariums. They coexist well with others of their kind and can tolerate sharing a tank with other surgeonfish. However, it’s crucial to consider the order in which you introduce fish into the tank to prevent potential conflicts.

Except for Convict Tangs and Gold-Rimmed Tangs, always add your Orange Shoulder Tang to the tank first. This allows them to settle in, establish territories, and find suitable hiding spots. These exceptions are even milder in temperament than Orange Shoulders, so they should be introduced first. Ideally, a larger tank size of around 300 gallons (1136L) is recommended to prevent potential bullying by the Orange Shoulder Tang.

If housing multiple Orange Shoulder Tangs, introduce them simultaneously, regardless of their age differences. This minimizes territorial disputes and bullying behavior. Ensuring a well-fed environment is essential, but Orange Shoulder Tangs generally do not exhibit aggressive behavior towards tank mates, providing plenty of options for creating a vibrant community reef tank.

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