In the wild, yellow tang feed on benthic turf algae and other marine plant material. In captivity they are commonly fed meat/fish based aquarium food, but the long term health effects of this diet are questionable. However, most experts in the marine aquarium industry express little skepticism that such a well rounded and balanced diet including plant and animal material would be in any way detrimental to mostly herbivorous fishes like tangs, since they still need on occasion, complex amino acids and nutrients that only ocean animals can provide. In the wild, yellow tang provide cleaner services to marine turtles, by removing algal growth from their shells.
The yellow tang is very commonly kept as a saltwater aquarium fish. They can grow up to 8 inches (20 cm) in the wild, but are introduced to aquariums in the 2″ to 4″ range. Often ranked as a good beginner fish in the marine aquarium industry, the more prudent approach is for them to be kept by a marine aquarist who has at least two years’ experience of successfully keeping a marine/reef type biotope. They require an aquarium of 55-gallon “show” tank size (48″L × 21″H × 13″W) at the absolute minimum, whereas a single smaller specimen 2″–3″ may be kept provided it is done by an experienced marine aquarist who can provide the fish with highly stable water chemistry parameters, very low to undetectable nitrate levels and a highly nutritious, balanced diet of seaweed and high protein frozen or live, meaty foods. A 75-gallon tank or larger is better for a single specimen, while an aquarium of 100 gallons or 60″ or more in length is ideal.