Zebrasoma velifer – Eastern Sailfin Tang

Zebrasoma veliferum or Eastern Sailfin Tang is especially notable for its huge dorsal and anal fin that they sometimes flare. This species mainly feeds on algae.

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Zebrasoma velifer – Eastern Sailfin Tang

Zebrasoma velifer was first described by Bloch as early as 1795, then under the name Acanthurus velifer. When moving to the genus Zebrasoma, the name was initially veliferum, but this is an incorrect conjugation of Latin. The official name has therefore been Zebrasoma velifer since 2012. However, in books and online you will still find the invalid spelling Zebrasoma veliferum a lot.

The species name “velifer” is made up of two Latin words. “Velum” means “sail” and “fero” means “wear”; this species carries a sail. A reference to the large dorsal and anal fin that can be raised like a sail.

The genus name Zebrasoma is a reference to the African zebra horse. Soma in ancient Greek means “body”, a reference to the stripes on the flank of this genus. Within the genus Zebrasoma, Zebrasoma velifer has the largest fins that are truly spectacular when expanded widely.


Zebrasoma velifer - Eastern Sailfin Tang - Adult

Zebrasoma velifer – Eastern Sailfin Tang – Adult

Zebrasoma velifer has a very different shape and color in his youth than as an adult. Juvenile animals have two distinct broad vertical dark stripes across their heads. The first runs over the eye and the second over the gills. The body is yellowish-white and shows a few vertical yellowish stripes. The anal and dorsal fin are yellow. When a juvenile expands its fins wide, it is much higher than long. The posterior edge of the dorsal and anal fin is trimmed with an iridescent blue trim.

The colors of the adult animals slowly become duller. The dorsal and anal fins also become a bit darker in color. On the base of the tail, the scalpel becomes more visible because it starts to turn blue. The bright yellow tail of the juveniles slowly changes to dark brown.

The head and dorsal and anal fins begin to show blue iridescent dots. The vertical dark brown stripes on the flank have dark yellow lines.

A fully grown Zebrasoma velifer can reach a maximum total length of about 40 centimeters in the wild. However, they often remain a bit smaller at a length of 30 centimeters.

In appearance, they are very similar to Zebrasoma desjardinii. You can tell the difference from the tail. As the young animals get older, Zebrasoma desjardinii get spots on the tail that are missing from Zebrasoma velifer.


While swimming, the dorsal and anal fins of the Sailfin Surgeonfish are folded. When they threaten, feel threatened or want to impress, they spread their fins wide. This doubles the size of the fish, which can impress or confuse other fish:

Zebrasoma velifer - Eastern Sailfin Tang

Zebrasoma velifer – Eastern Sailfin Tang


The Sailfin Doctor fish can be found around the reefs at depths of 1 to 45 meters. They occur along the east coast of Africa and Madagascar. From India to the north to Japan and as far south as the north coast of Australia. In the Pacific, the habitat extends to Hawaii and the Pitcairn Islands.


In the wild, Zebrasoma velifer mainly feeds on algae. They are busy all day looking for microalgae between the corals. They also exhibit this behavior in the aquarium. The entire aquarium is cleared of algae from top to bottom. Because an aquarium often does not contain enough algae, they require supplemental feeding. Algae sheets, spirulina flakes or granules can be given several times a day.

You can also feed them with blanched green vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and, for example, broccoli. They eat meat-like food with the other fish, but to keep them healthy they need to get enough vegetable food.

The Aquarium

I would keep 1,000 liters as the minimum volume for an Eastern Sailfin Tang aquarium. It is a very active fish that swims quickly all day long in search of something edible. The aquarium should therefore be set up with enough rocks on which to graze. In addition, a lot of swimming space is required to give them sufficient exercise.

Because the diet consists of algae, they leave coral completely alone. This species is therefore completely reef safe.

They form a territory in which they can chase other algae eaters away. The Eastern Sailfin Tang is therefore usually kept solitary. You can only consider multiple specimens in very large aquariums. They may also be aggressive towards other surgeonfish somewhat similar to this species. They are also peaceful towards other fish species.

Breeding Zebrasoma velifer – Eastern Sailfin Tang

As far as is known, breeding of the Zebrasoma velifer in captivity has not yet been successful.

Young specimens grow quickly. This is necessary because this species can live on average between five and seven years.


This species has a razor-sharp blade at their caudal peduncle. This retractable scalpel-like protrusion is a natural way to defend themselves. They only unfold when the fish is excited or feels threatened. They can cause very deep flesh wounds, which can often lead to infections. Research suggests that this species does not have venom glands near the scalpel. This would distinguish them from the other surgeonfish.



John de Lange

Copyright images

Russell Gilbert
Ron DeCloux
Rickard Zerpe – CC BY 2.0
zsispeo – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



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