Scopas Tang

The Zebrasoma species are the long-nosed members of the surgeonfish family Acanthuridae. Their exaggerated snout gives them an advantage when foraging, as they are able to get at algae growing in reef cracks and crevices that are unavailable to other surgeonfish. Like all surgeonfish, the scopas tang (Zebrasoma scopas) has a spine in front of the tail that is used for offense and defense. It is folded back against the caudal peduncle when not employed.

Difficulty: The scopas tang is rather easy to keep, especially in the reef aquarium. The main thing is to make sure you provide enough of the right foods to ensure that the scopas tang’s nutritional needs are met. This would include substantial amounts of plant material, including microalgae, macroalgae, broccoli, spinach, Spirulina flake food and dried algae sheets. It is best to feed Zebrasoma scopas frequently (two or three times a day) or add a freeze-dried algae sheet with a lettuce clip so it can browse throughout the day. If not fed often enough, the scopas tang loses weight and is more prone to parasitic infection.

Physical description: Zebrasoma scopas looks just like a yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), but it is brown instead of yellow. In fact, where it overlaps in its range with the yellow tang, the two species interbreed. YoungZebrasoma scopas have higher dorsal and anal fins compared to their body size than full-grown specimens, and they have bluish-white stripes. Adults are darker (brown to almost black) with white spots and flecks. Don’t confuse this species with the much less common and more expensive black tang (Zebrasoma rostratum), which has a much longer snout and a grayish silver streak down the back (this is only present in larger adults). Sometimes, the two fish cannot tell each other apart and are known to occasionally hybridize. The scopas tang reaches a maximum length of about 8.5 inches.

Range: The scopas tang ranges from east coast of Africa to Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific. The scopas tang occurs at a depth of less than 1 to at around 200 feet.

Compatibility: The scopas tang can be aggressive toward other surgeonfish, especially other members of the genusZebrasoma. It might also scrape with rabbitfish and other herbivores in medium-sized aquariums. If kept in a larger aquarium, the Zebrasoma scopas tends to behave itself, as it is not one of the more bellicose of the acanthurid clan. In fact, the scopas tang will be dominated by more aggressive Acanthurus species (e.g., powder blue, Acanthurus leucosternon; lined Acanthurus lineatus; and shoal surgeonfish, Acanthurus sohal). It is also likely to be beaten on by the more aggressive purple tang (Zebrasoma xanthurum). Only one scopas tang should be kept in the aquarium, although if the aquarium is large enough, you may be able to keep a pair. This species is sexually dimorphic, with males having a patch of short, bristles on the caudal peduncle, which are lacking in females. Although the scopas tang can serve a useful function in the reef aquarium (by eating filamentous algae), an occasional individual may nip at the tissue of large-polyped stony corals, star polyps, gorgonians, zoanthids and Tridacna clams (they have been known to nip mantles). This is more likely to happen when algae growth is sparse and little food is introduced. To reduce the likelihood of this bad behavior, provide sheets of dried algae for the scopas tang.

Aquarium conditions: The adult scopas tang should be kept in an aquarium of at least 75 gallons with plenty of swimming room. The following water parameters are recommended for the scopas tang: pH of 8.1 to 8.4, specific gravity of 1.019 to 1.025 and a water temperature of 74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Care considerations: The scopas tang often hosts ectoparasites. The most common acanthurid parasites include turbellarian flatworms in the genera Paravortex, Cryptocaryon and Amyloodinium. It may be that the scopas tang is more susceptible to skin parasites because it does not produce copious amounts of protective skin slime like many other reef fish. The scopas tang is also notorious for developing lateral line and fin erosion.

Breeding: The scopas tang is not likely to spawn in the home aquarium.

Breed Details

Scientific Name:
Country of Origin:
The east coast of Africa to Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific