Profile of the Orange Shoulder Tang Fish

Orange shoulder tang fish

The orange shoulder tang is a fish that is frequently ignored. It's a stunning fish to have in your aquarium. It's a good fish for a large saltwater reef aquarium with a lot of people. When it develops, its color display alters dramatically (in a good way).

The young orange shoulder tang is one of the friendlier surgeonfish species, with less aggressive behavior toward other fish. If you wish to keep many in the same tank, acquire youngsters and introduce them all at the same time.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Orangeshoulder surgeonfish, orangeband surgeonfish, or orange-epaulette surgeonfish

Scientific Name: Canthurus olivaceus

Adult Size: Up to 14 inches

Life Expectancy: 5 to 7 years


Family Acanthuridae
Origin Pacific Islands
Social Semi-aggressive
Tank Level All areas
135 gallon
Diet Omnivore
Breeding Egg scatterer
Care Moderate
pH 8.1 to 8.4
Hardness 8 to 12 dGH
75 to 82 F (24 to 28 C)

Origin and Distribution

The distribution of this species extends from Hawaii southward to central Polynesia and westward through Micronesia, Melanesia, the Philippines, and the East Indies.

The orange shoulder tang will relocate to the highly oxygenated waters on or near the reef's surge zones as it matures, where it will spend the remainder of its life until forced to move by causes such as hurricanes that render the coral waters inhospitable.

Colors and Markings

The hues of the orange shoulder tang are not very vivid at first look, but closer inspection reveals a brownish-olive two-tone coloring highlighted by a bright orange bar on its shoulder.

The orange shoulder tang is more commonly seen in big public aquariums than in smaller hobby tanks because to its eventual larger size. The body of this fish is brilliant yellow during its juvenile stage, with only a tinge of blue border on the anal and dorsal fins. The orange mark or slash on its shoulder, which grows as it matures, is absent in juveniles.

The "sword" or "scalpel" at the base of the orange shoulder tang's tail is not as large or dangerous as it is on some other surgeonfish, such as the naso tang (Naso lituratus) or the Achilles tang (Acanthurus achilles), but it is still large and sharp enough to inflict a serious wound, so use caution when handling this fish. While the scalpel can cause a significant cut, the most serious risk is a bacterial infection that can be fatal.


A juvenile and an adult can be maintained together as long as the aquarium is large enough. It gets along well with other non-aggressive tank mates, however if you want to maintain this species with other surgeonfish, introduce this fish first, or if they're the same species, put them in the aquarium together.

The maximum size of the orange shoulder tang is about 14 inches.

Habitat and Care

Because of its size and constant roaming nature, the minimum aquarium size suggested for this fish is at least 135 gallons with a lot of open swimming space.

As long as it is adequately nourished, it is a reef-safe species. A hungry orange shoulder tang may bite at the corals, but invertebrates are normally unharmed. When disturbed or alarmed, the orange shoulder tang will need a few appropriate hiding locations to claim as their own. Having a large number of live rock in your tank will not only help you maintain appropriate water parameters, but it will also give a more natural environment for the orange shoulder tang, who prefer to pick at algae that forms on your live rocks.


In the natural, this omnivorous fish feeds on filamentous algae, diatoms, and debris from sand bottom substrates. It thrives in an aquarium with an open sand bottom and plenty of algae to graze on.

This fish should be fed a diversified diet in an aquarium, containing both marine algae (dried seaweed) and meaty foods. This fish may be fed by hanging dried Nori seaweed in a vegetable clip in the aquarium. Mysis shrimp, which is a good source of protein for this and other fish, will be eaten by the Orange Shoulder. Feed three times a day in tiny quantities. Cucumber, lettuce, and broccoli are also acceptable, as are meaty frozen items.

Sexual Differences

The sexes of orange shoulder tangs stay distinct, hence there is no gender flipping in this species. There do not appear to be any distinguishing traits between the sexes in this species. During mating seasons, males take on brighter courting hues.


To date, the orange shoulder tang has not been successfully bred in captivity.

This fish, like other surgeonfish, is a "free spawner" or, to put it another way, an egg scatterer in the wild, with the female ejecting her eggs near the water's surface and the male fertilizing the eggs as they drift to the surface. Once fertilized eggs reach the surface, they travel through the ocean's plankton layer with the ocean current. The eggs hatch, and the fry float downstream in the river. The plankton layer's algae, larvae, and other tiny creatures provide food for the fry. The fry drop to the ocean's bottom when the plankton and fry get close enough to land, generally in calmer seas outside of the surge zones on the reef and in bays and harbors.

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

If orange shoulder tangs appeal to you, and you are interested in some compatible fish for your aquarium, read up on: