Yellowfin Surgeonfish Care “Acanthurus Xanthopterus”

yellowfin surgeonfish

Last updated on September 18th, 2022 at 09:48 am

The yellowfin surgeonfish is a beautiful and hardy fish that can be found in the Indian Ocean, eastern Africa, and throughout the Indo-Pacific. They have a yellow body with brownish spots and stripes. The yellowfin surgeonfish will typically grow to about 18 inches long and live for about 15 years. They are easy to take care of, but do need an aquarium that is at least 30 gallons or more.

They are one of the most popular marine fish in the trade. They are native to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but they are often found in aquariums all over the world.

This article discusses basic information and how to properly care for the yellowfin surgeonfish!

Origin and description

yellowfin surgeonfish

The yellowfin surgeonfish is a large marine fish found in tropical waters of the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans. They are most common near reefs, but they also swim around coastal areas at depths of up to 165 feet (50 meters). Their scientific name means “kite-like fin” because their central caudal blade looks like a kite.

This species is very distinctive because of its bright yellow color, black stripes along the sides, and blue eyes with a red iris ring. The edges of both dorsal fins are dark grey in adults while they are entirely yellow when young. They have eight long spines on either side of their caudal peduncle which can be up to two inches long. Their pectoral fins are also very large in comparison with their body, which is a useful identification feature for this species.

Although the yellowfin surgeonfish can grow to a maximum of 26 inches (65 cm), they normally only reach lengths of 20-24 inches (60-70 cm) and weigh around 15 pounds (60 kg). They are named surgeonfish because they have very sharp spines on their caudal peduncle, dorsal fins, and pelvic fins. These spines are used for protection against predators by warding them off or stunning them enough to allow the yellowfin surgeonfish to swim away rapidly.

This species is often confused with the yellow-edged lyretail surgeonfish, but they can be identified from their blue eyes and lack of white spots on their pectoral fins.

Currently, there is not a lot known about this species because of its wide distribution across different oceans which has made studying it very difficult.

Species profile

yellowfin surgeonfish

The yellowfin surgeonfish, also called the barberfish, is a large fish inhabiting coral reefs. It has an oval body with blue and gray stripes on its side that change into bright yellow at the tail fin. Its most recognizable feature is the three long spines protruding from behind each gill cover. These spines can be up to 25 centimeters long and are venomous.

The yellowfin surgeonfish is a large fish inhabiting coral reefs.

Scientific name

The scientific name of the yellow surgeonfish is Acanthurus xanthopterus.

Color and appearance

The yellowfin surgeonfish is a brightly colored fish with blue stripes on either side of its body. There are several variations in color for this species, but they usually have white or light gray fins and sometimes dark spots near their eyes. Some yellowfin surgeonfish may also have an orange hue to their coloration.

As with many species of fish, there is some sexual dimorphism in the appearance of this species. Females tend to be bigger than males and more rounded on the body as well. As they age, females often lose these bright blue stripes that are so prominent on younger fish.

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Range and habitat

The yellowfin surgeonfish are found throughout the Pacific Ocean. Their range extends from Australia to Java and some areas of Southeast Asia as well. They prefer shallow coral reefs, lagoons, and open waters where there is plenty of vegetation on which they can feed.

They spend their days swimming around slowly with an upright position in between plants or coral reefs. At night, they are more active and will venture into open water or away from vegetation to feed. Their preferred habitat is between 72°F (22°C) and 82°F (28°C).

Many of the fish that people encounter in their homes are either juveniles who have been separated from their school or specimens which were harvested and kept in a tank. They prefer warmer waters, so they cannot survive for very long if their habitat is too cold or lacks sufficient food to eat.


This species can grow to be quite large, typically around 11 inches (28 cm) long and weighing just over two pounds (.91 kg). However, most of the time they are much smaller than this with an average weight closer to half a pound (.23 kg).

As mentioned before, the size of these fish can vary quite a bit. Most specimens live and feed in large schools that contain around 20-30 individuals at most sizes. However, larger members of this species may also be seen swimming alone or with another individual by their side for company.

Tank size

Because these fish are so small, they can be kept in a relatively small tank. For example, 30 gallons tanks (114 L) will work for an individual yellowfin surgeonfish as long as it is not expected to grow very large over the course of its life.

Although there is no minimum size requirement, larger individuals should have at least a 55 gallon (208 L) tank to accommodate their size and swimming needs. A bigger area will also make it more likely for them to be comfortable in the space and not get stressed out by smaller areas.

As with most species of fish, there is no maximum size requirement either. However, these fish are extremely active swimmers who require a lot of room to swim around in. If the tank is too small, they may get stressed out and not eat properly or act abnormally because of their enclosure size.

Life cycle

The yellowfin surgeonfish are not likely to breed in captivity unless they have been raised from a very small size. They will lay eggs on vegetation or near corals, but the larvae do not survive long without their parents there providing food for them.

For this reason, it is difficult if not impossible to create an aquarium environment that simulates the wild conditions of their habitat. Unless they are very small, most specimens will not be able to live for more than a year or so in an aquarium before dying from starvation or disease.

Are they aggressive or peaceful?

The yellowfin surgeonfish are not aggressive or territorial by nature. They usually swim around in large schools and keep to themselves unless they are mating.

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Although they may be seen swimming near other species of fish, it is unlikely that the two will come into conflict because their diets are different from one another’s. For example, many herbivores are not interested in eating algae or plants because they cannot digest them properly.

However, the yellowfin surgeonfish are curious animals who may come into contact with other species on a regular basis if there is something interesting for them to investigate nearby. This will only be fleeting though, since fish tend to lose interest quickly and swim away from any new stimuli that they encounter.

Breeding is the only time when the yellowfin surgeonfish may become aggressive with other fish in their tank. Males and females will often fight to determine which one of them gets to mate first, so it may be a good idea to avoid putting multiple specimens into a small area if they cannot be supervised carefully at all times.

Yellowfin surgeonfish care

yellowfin surgeonfish

The yellowfin surgeonfish are only suited for the most experienced fish keepers because they require a lot of attention and special care.

It is also important to remember that these fishes are not meant to live in aquariums, so any specimens kept as pets will have to be fed intensively until they die or can be returned back into their natural habitat.

They are not good pets for people who get bored easily, since the yellowfin surgeonfish require almost constant attention and care to stay healthy in their new environment.

What they eat

The yellowfin surgeonfish is a herbivore which means that it eats mostly algae and plants. In their natural habitat, they will eat plankton as well but usually stick to eating seaweed in an aquarium environment because of the lack of nutrients present there compared to what’s available underwater.

These fish are not picky about what type of plant or algae they eat, as long as it is within their size range. Since most aquarium plants are smaller than the yellowfin surgeonfish themselves, a wide variety of different species can be used to keep them healthy and well-fed even in captivity.

In addition to eating plant matter on its own, the yellowfin surgeonfish also eats any dead fish or algae which fall to the bottom of its tank. This may be beneficial for other species who are willing participants in this process, but it can also lead to higher amounts of waste being deposited within the aquarium environment over time.

Tank mates

The yellowfin surgeonfish are not suitable for aquariums with other species of fish because they cannot live together in harmony.

For example, the yellowfin surgeonfish may mistake smaller specimens as food and eat them up during their breeding season or when feeling particularly hungry. They are also known to be territorial towards other types of herbivore fishes who also try to eat the same plants and algae.

This means that other fish, invertebrates, or even corals may get nipped at by this species on an almost constant basis if they are living in a small enclosure together. They can also become very aggressive with other types of larger fishes that approach their territory, leading to a very hostile environment for anyone living there.

Although they may be compatible with other species in the wild, it is best to avoid putting yellowfin surgeonfish and other types of fish into an aquarium together completely. They will almost always fight over food or plants if placed in close proximity, which can result in severe injuries or even death after a period of time.

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Water conditions

The yellowfin surgeonfish are affected by many of the same water conditions as other species in their natural environment, so it is important to replicate these properly within a tank setting.

For example, they prefer warm waters with a pH between eight and nine which also have plenty of salt present at all times. This means that it’s very difficult for the yellowfin surgeonfish to survive in an aquarium environment, especially if they are being kept with other types of fish that require different water chemistry.

In most cases, the yellowfin surgeonfish will not accept food sources that do not match their preferred conditions and may eventually starve themselves as a result. This means that it is best to avoid keeping them in an aquarium with other types of fish who require different pH levels or, at the very least, make sure to provide them with plenty of algae and seaweed for food on their own.


They are easy to breed in captivity as long as they have the proper environment and diet.

However, these fish may become aggressive with members of their own species if there is not enough space or vegetation present for them to claim a territory within an aquarium. In most cases, this can be resolved by purchasing a larger tank that can hold several specimens of this species, or by creating a design that allows each one to claim its own space.


The yellowfin surgeonfish can live up to ten years in a tank environment, although the average lifespan is around five years.

They are also affected by many of the same health conditions as other types of herbivore fishes who require similar diets and water chemistry levels within an aquarium setting. For example, they may become sick due to poor quality food sources or if they are not allowed to eat enough vegetation to stay healthy.

For this reason, it is important that the yellowfin surgeonfish be given plenty of algae and other plant-based foods in order for them to survive adequately in a tank environment. Otherwise, their lifespan may be shortened dramatically due to malnutrition over time which results in poor health.

Parasites and diseases

yellowfin surgeonfish

The yellowfin surgeonfish may be affected by a number of different parasites and diseases which can shorten their lifespan dramatically if they are not treated properly.

For example, it is possible for them to contract ich from other types of fish in an aquarium environment or even from vegetation if it has been exposed to the open water at any point before being placed into the tank.

This can lead to a total loss of coloration in the yellowfin surgeonfish and eventually death if it is not treated quickly with medication that specifically treats ich or other parasitic infections.

If left untreated, this species may also be affected by fin rot due to poor water conditions within an aquarium environment. This causes their fins to become dark and tattered, which can eventually lead to the loss of those fins entirely if it is not treated with medication.

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In addition, they may also be affected by a condition known as head and lateral line erosion disease (HLLE) due to malnutrition or poor water conditions over time. This causes white spots on their body and head which gradually expand and become more severe over time, which increases the stress of this species significantly.

Fortunately, many types of medications used to treat parasitic infections or HLLE are also available in powder form for use with foods made specifically for herbivorous fishes like the yellowfin surgeonfish. This can be mixed into their food on a regular basis until they are healthy again, and it also provides a good source of nutrients for their diet.


The yellowfin surgeonfish have a number of predators in their natural habitat which can include other types of fish, larger marine animals, and even seabirds.

In captivity, the biggest risk for this type of species is probably from smaller herbivorous fishes who may become aggressive due to overcrowding or the presence of food sources within an aquarium setting. An aggressive fish like the yellow tang may also see this species as a threat to their own territory or food sources, which can lead to nips and scrapes on the body of a smaller surgeonfish.

Does it make good pets?

Yes! Yellowfin surgeonfish are highly intelligent and can be trained to eat from specialized feeding sticks or tongs in some cases.

They may also learn the sound of their owner’s voice over time, which can result in them begging for food when they hear that person nearby even if there is no visual cue present.

In addition, this species does not require any specialized care in most aquariums which means that they are relatively easy to keep and maintain when compared to other fish.

The only real challenge with this type of species is making sure the water chemistry levels within an aquarium environment stay at a consistent level, although monitoring these can be done easily through the use of test kits or strips for ammonia and nitrite levels.

There are some other species that have similar care requirements to the yellowfin surgeonfish, but they cannot be kept with this particular fish due to their aggressive nature or predatory instincts toward smaller species that live in an aquarium environment.


When all of the above information is considered, it’s easy to see why this species makes an excellent choice for many types of fish keepers. They are relatively inexpensive when compared to other herbivorous fishes, which means that they don’t cost a lot of money to purchase or maintain over time.

They also require very little in terms of specialized care, which means that they can be kept by a wide variety of aquarists ranging from novices to experts in the field.

If taken care of properly and provided with a proper diet, this species should remain healthy for many years before any major health concerns arise, which makes them an excellent choice for both beginners and experienced hobbyists alike.