Acanthurus coeruleus – Blue Tang Surgeonfish

Acanthurus coeruleus – Blue Tang Surgeonfish belongs to the family Acanthuridae. The Blue Surgeonfish inhabits both the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. When young they are yellow, later they turn blue.

Acanthurus coeruleus – Blue Tang Surgeonfish

The Atlantic blue tang or Acanthurus coeruleus belongs to the family Acanthuridae. This family encompasses other tang varieties and surgeonfishes. Atlantic blue tang inhabits both the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Significant populations can also be found along the eastern coastal regions of the Americas from as far north as New York to as far south as Brazil.

There is a species of fish commonly called the Pacific Blue Tang or Royal tang (Paracanthurus hepatus). The description for this species can be found in the article about the Paracanthurus hepatus – Picasso Surgeonfish.


The Blue Tang Surgeonfish is a flat-bodied oval-shaped fish. Adult and juvenile color palettes are completely different from one another. Juveniles undergo a color morph as a part of adolescence. Juveniles have a bright yellow coloration with blue trimming on the edges of their dorsal and anal fins. Juveniles, in fact, are often referred to as Yellow Tangs. In the transitional phase between juvenile and adult, the fish will develop a blue coloration very typically with yellow trimmed dorsal and anal fins. The caudal fin is generally the last part of the juvenile’s body to undergo color change. Adults are blue in color. The color gradually grows darker as the fish continues to age. Adults also have horizontal lines on their bodies whereas young tang have no body markings. The Atlantic blue tang is also commonly sold under the names Blue Caribbean Tang, Blue Tang Surgeonfish, or simply the Blue Tang. Adults vary in shades from powder blue to vibrant royal blue. These color variations are often incorporated into their names, for instance, the Powder Blue Tang.

Below a young Acanthurus coeruleus specimen in its juvenile dress and an adult specimen to the right:

Atlantic Blues are non-aggressive toward other species. They can be successfully integrated into a community environment without any problems. They will require a couple of hiding places and plenty of swimming room because of their size. These fish do demonstrate territorial behavior and have been known to become combative with other members of their species. It is therefore recommended that you only keep a single adult in a tank. Adults do not tend to exercise aggressive tendencies toward the juveniles of their species. An adult and a juvenile may usually be housed together without incident. Non-confrontational behavior may continue as the young tang matures into adulthood.

A school of Acanthurus coeruleus – Blue Tang Surgeonfish:

Acanthurus coeruleus – Blue Tang Surgeonfish School
Acanthurus coeruleus – Blue Tang Surgeonfish School

Blue Tangs are shallow water reef dwellers. They inhabit the coastal coral reefs found along the western Atlantic shorelines. They would be right at home in a reef tank large enough to provide them with adequate swimming room as adults.


These fish are primarily herbivores. In the wild their diet consists of plant matter and algae. But they also demonstrate an occasional taste for small crustaceans. Juveniles will often dine on the parasites commonly found on marine turtles.

Acanthurus coeruleus
Acanthurus coeruleus

In a home aquarium they can be fed plant based marine food. They have also been known to consume meat protein-based marine food. The presence of algae in your aquarium will insure that they remain fit and healthy in a captive environment. You may supplement their diet with seaweed.

This fish has little value to the Caribbean fishing industry. They are not caught for human consumption. Ciguaterra poisoning may occur from the consumption of their flesh by human beings. However, they are caught for the thriving saltwater aquarium industry and are often used as bait to catch other varieties of fish.

A note of caution: This species has a razor-sharp projection at the base of its caudal fin. These retractable, scalpel-like protrusions are a natural means of self defense. They only unfold when the fish is excited or feels threatened. However, they can cause very deep flesh wounds, often leading to infections. The infections are characterized by swelling and discoloration of the wound. This can last for several hours. Due to the infections caused by scalpel wounds, it is suspected that they have venom glands.


Exotic-Aquariums (orinal website no longer online)

Copyright images

Images adult:Paul and Jill
Images juveniles: Kevin Bryant
zsispeoCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Additional information





Common name

Blue Tang Surgeonfish

First described by

Johann Gottlob Schneider, Marcus Elieser Bloch


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