There’s been a lot of confusion regarding the keeping of surgeonfish in reef aquaria especially when it comes to keeping multiple specimens and several different species within the same tank. Experienced reefers have never had a problem keeping a yellow with a convict and tomini tang but there are a few factors to consider if you want a healthy school of surgeonfish, especially when they are first added to the aquarium.
We’ve fielded the question countless times across all of our content throughout the years but the answer is not neatly summarized with a few words or even a couple of sentences, so we decided to do a whole video about the subject. We enjoy the company of over 50 various surgeonfish spread out across a dozen reef and fish aquariums and almost every tank has at least a pair of tangs or more depending on the size, and we’ve narrowed down the techniques for keeping multiple surgeonfish in the same aquarium to four different factors.
The first factor is the size of the tank – there’s nothing wrong with keeping one or more small tangs in a smaller tank, in fact this can be quite beneficial for them when they are smaller and younger as they can enjoy a calmer life in a kind of nursery setting. As the fish grows and requires more room you can transfer it to a larger aquarium and this is what many newer reefers will do as their tank(s) grow in the size during their time in the hobby.
The second factor to consider is the size of the fish – it can be straightforward to add the largest most showy specimen of surgeonfish to a single, pair, or trio of tangs if the size difference is big enough that the established tangs pose no threat to the newer larger specimen being added to the school. If you added a small fish to an established school or small group of aquarium surgeonfish you’re likely to encounter some aggression, bullying and general compatibility problems.
The third and most important factor to keep in mind when growing your group of aquarium tangs is the aggressive nature of the species in particular. You can add a more dominant species of surgeonfish to a school of more docile species but it doesn’t work the other way around – you’ll probably be fine adding a clown, sohal, or large acanthurus like a powder blue tang to a group of Zebrasomas of bristlemouth tangs but you’ll encounter some extreme chasing and bullying if you try to add a small yellow or scopas or tomini to a tank with a dominant sailfin or Acanthurus species.
The last consideration to develop your surgeonfish family is the ability to ‘reset’ the population of tangs by playing musical aquariums with your fish. This is not practical for one-tank reefers but if you have multiple aquariums, it’s possible to shuffle your surgeonfish pets around until you add all the fish to their final home at the same time so no single specimen has the chance to establish its territory and become aggressive before any other tank mate.
The practice of resetting the aquarium territory is not unlike African cichlid keepers who might rearrange all the rocks are and aquascape to reset any territorial markers. Granted we don’t have the same freedom to rearrange the reef aquarium when adding new fish so our approach is to rearrange the fish population instead. This video was very fun to make and we also make the case for using specimen cups instead of handheld fish nets in a clip where we capture five large yellow tangs at the same time within just a minute of trying.