Fish Keeping 101

Fish Keeping 101: Keeping a Powder Blue Tang in a Marine Aquarium

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While commonly available and very popular, the powder blue tang is not a fish for every marine aquarist. Know what it takes to have success with this aquarium species.

The powder blue tang (Acanthurus leucosternon) is one of the most popular and commonly offered tropical marine aquarium fishes. Its availability, combined with its popularity, however, leads to too many of these fish dying in marine aquarists’ tanks. Why? While the species is almost always listed as only being appropriate for the intermediate or advanced aquarist, plenty of novice aquarists buy this animal for its stunning good looks without knowing what it really takes to keep them healthy.

The solution is a quick assessment of the hobbyist’s own skills (and the system he or she keeps) to determine if a powder blue tang is truly the right choice. After reviewing the information included in this article, the aquarist should know whether or not he or she is ready for a powder blue tang.

Begin with a Healthy Powder Blue Tang

It is essential to start with a healthy powder blue tang. While one may say this advice is true for all aquarium animals, it is particularly true for these tangs. Why? For a variety of reasons, powder blue tangs have a more difficult time shipping than many other fishes, so make sure the one you acquire is healthy looking from the outset.

A healthy powder blue tang will be active, alert and aware of its surroundings. It should be eating and its color should be bright. The fish’s eyes should be clear and it should not appear skinny. Avoid fish with obvious damage to fins and other bodily wounds.

Quarantine All New Arrivals in a Quarantine Tank

While it is strongly recommended that all marine aquarists utilize a quarantine tank whenever they acquire a new fish, this is particularly true with the powder blue tang. The powder blue tang is quite susceptible to crypto (aka “marine ich”), and the only way to avoid a catastrophe, is to quarantine the fish for a full two weeks before introducing it to an established display tank.

A Powder Blue Tang Aquarium

In terms of the appropriate display tank for a powder blue tang, here are the basics:
- 100 Gallons (or Larger)
- Reef Tank or Fish-Only-With-Live-Rock (FOWLR)
- At Least Six Months Old
- Robust Filtration

The powder blue tang can grow to 12 inches, and it needs room to swim and algae on which to graze. A large, established tank with live rock is a must for any aquarist planning to keep this beautiful fish.

Excellent and stable water quality is also critical. The pH level should be consistently high at 8.1 or 8.2, and the temperature should be on the warmer side (around 80-degrees F) but, most importantly, should not fluctuate more than a couple of degrees in a 24-hour period.

Feeding a Powder Blue Tang

Like most new aquarium fishes, a varied, nutritious diet can make all the difference during acclimation. A variety of high quality marine aquarium foods (including foods for herbivores and omnivores) should be on hand. Offering nori strips or Sea Veggies and some meaty foods such as enriched frozen mysis shrimp or raw table shrimp will be appreciated.


The powder blue tang is a territorial fish. As such, it should be kept as the only member of its species in the tank. It is best, in fact, to consider having it be the only tang in the tank, especially where tangs of similar shape, color and size are concerned. To ease aggression, the powder blue tang should be added last (or very close to last) when stocking a marine aquarium.
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