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Finding Your Own Blue Tang Fish
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Finding Your Own Blue Tang Fish

Critter Culture Staff



The movie Finding Nemo introduced people to Dory, an adorably forgetful fish that ultimately saves the day. Not surprisingly, many people wanted to own a distracted Dory fish of their very own. The blue tang fish is bigger, more sociable, and more uniquely colored than in the movies. This highly entertaining species takes a bit of work to care for, but at least they don't have short-term memory loss.


Plenty of fish in the sea

When Finding Nemo was released in 2003, the clownfish Nemo portrayed became so beloved that families everywhere began adopting them as pets, reducing their wildlife population. Thankfully, scientists solved this problem by enabling domestic breeding. No such solution has been found for the blue tang fish, so it's important to source them ethically. Thankfully, Dory's kind has not encountered the same population decrease as Nemo's, so the tangs are safe.


Space to swim

As a saltwater fish, the blue tang requires some specific living conditions, the most important one being a roomy aquarium. They don't like to be cramped, so the average aquarium size for a palette surgeonfish is a minimum of 90–120 gallons, with 200 being much better. This equates to an aquarium that is two feet high by six feet wide by two feet deep; this will literally weigh a ton when filled, so make sure you have space.


Bigger than you think

Dory was a petite fish in the film, but not so much in real life. Part of the reason they need so much space is that the pacific blue tang can grow to an average length of one foot, even reaching 18 inches — and they grow faster than their owners expect. With such a big fish growing up so fast, you can see why they need their room.


Social schools

Another reason that blue tangs need such a large aquarium is that they rarely live alone. They prefer to have a good deal of company, so the average school usually consists of 10 to 12 of their friends. Blue tangs get along reasonably well with other fish species, but they can become aggressive toward their own kind. It helps to introduce them to their friends all at once — and provide them plenty of space to avoid overcrowding.


Places to play

Part of what makes blue tangs so entertaining is that they like to move so much. Don't expect your tang to stay in one place; they enjoy hiding behind rocks and navigating their reefs with agility. They prefer natural-looking structures, though, so when you arrange your aquarium, give them some obstacles that look like home.


Seaweed supper

Blue tang fish are in their element among tropical coral reefs, and their diet consists of the algae and seaweed that grows there. They may eat a few meat bits left behind by their other aquarium friends, but the tang's primary diet should be what they would find on the reef. This will also make them less aggressive, so feed them algae or seaweed three times a week.


Just right

Like many fish, blue tangs require a narrow temperature and pH range to thrive. With ideal temperatures of 72-78°F and no higher than 82°F, they like it about as warm as you probably do. Their pH should be slightly basic, ranging from 8.1 to 8.4. Maintain these conditions, and your tang is sure to thrive.


Night-time surprise

As beautiful as Dory is in the movie, it still doesn't do justice to the blue tang. These fish not only have vibrant blue bodies with black and yellow markings in the daytime, at night their light-reflecting skin turns a pale white color with violet hues around their head, making them even more spectacular to watch.


Family-friendly alternatives

Like the forgetful friend that made them famous, pacific blue tangs are a joy to watch for seasoned aquarium owners that have the space. For those new to caring for fish, a lower-maintenance freshwater friend could be a nice warmup before diving into this more complicated saltwater species. The paradise beta may not look exactly like Dory, but it is similar in color and easier to maintain. Consider it if you'd like a simpler alternative.


Not to be confused with the dory fish

Dory is a fish, but she's not a dory fish. The mistake doesn't tend to last long, though — the John Dory fish is not nearly as attractive as the blue tang. The full name of Dory's species is the Pacific blue tang or palette surgeonfish.


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