RSS Captive bred yellow tangs inching closely to reality

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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Captive bred yellow tangs seems to always be just one or two years away, even though the Oceanic Institute has been hard at work to crack the code for about ten years now. Spawning surgeonfish in captivity is relatively simple but rearing the tiny larvae to adulthood has turned out to be one of the holy grails of captive bred ornamental fish.

Four years ago, in the echo chamber that is the internet, some misinformation made the rounds which seemed to support the notion that yellow tangs had indeed been captive bred. While they were technically ‘captive bred’, these offspring never made it past a couple weeks of larval duration which is not an actual success by any measure.

The sequence of yellow tang larval development. Oceanic Institute

In the intervening years, the Oceanic Institute never let up on breeding Zebrasoma flavescens, and they’ve been pushing and trying every kind of larval diets they can to get their yellow tang larvae to live longer and longer. Last year Chad Callan announced that their larval yellow tangs had passed the 50 day milestone and it seemed like settlement of the yellow tangs could be imminent.

Alas, another year has passed and no baby yellow tangs have settled from the prodigious quantity of larvae that the Rising Tide project is producing. However, this week the Oceanic Institute announced that they’ve now gotten their yellow tangs to the 70 day milestone and these fish really do look like they’re right around the corner from being teeny tiny little yellow tang juveniles.

The 70 day old yellow tang larvae are starting to develop into their characteristic rounded adult shapes

The 70 day old (post hatch) larvae of yellow tangs that Chad Callan and crew have managed to raise are starting to round out in shape, and we can even see hints of some pigmentation developing in some parts of the body, notably the head and the tail. At this point, we have pretty good documentation on the appearance of pre-settlement and post settlement yellow tangs, and it truly seems like the Oceanic Institute needs to push through just a little bit longer to get their baby fish to settle out.

Wild caught pre-settlement yellow tang larvae showing what the fish look like right before they turn yellow and settle onto the reef.

A freshly settle juvenile yellow tang on a hawaiian reef. Photo by Keoki Stender

The other significant milestone for these captive bred yellow tangs is the development of the dorsal and anal fin which single a change from pelagic free floating larvae to self-directed, mobile fish that is ready to swim around on the reef.

Success with the yellow tang will not only mean that the aquarium hobby will eventually enjoy sustainable captive bred yellow tangs, but that we might even look forward to seeing the techniques for Z. flavescens being applied to a large number of other surgeonfish species. The captive bred yellow tang larvae are lasting longer and longer and any day now we expect to read an announcement from Rising Tide that they’ve finally broken through the captive bred surgeonfish barrier. [Rising Tide]

A small juvenile yellow tang still showing the vertical striping that is common on very young zebrasoma. Photo Sara Mctee

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