By Bob Goemans
Site Supported in Part by:
Dr Gs Marine Aquaculture 

Moorish Idol

 Zanclus cornutus (Moorish Idol)

Zanclus cornutus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Moorish Idol

Likely Reef Tank Suitable

Likely Fish-Only Tank Suitable


These beautiful marine fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Acanthuroidei as members of the Family Zanclidae. It consists of one genus, having one species, Zanclus cornutus, and they are commonly found throughout the Indo-Pacific. In fact, it has one of the largest geographical distributions of any marine fish. And it was the Moors in Africa who provided the common name, as they believed it brought happiness and prosperity to anyone that maintained them.

Idols are related to angelfishes and tangs, and are similarly shaped, i.e., having disc-shaped/laterally compressed bodies. They also have a long snout, small mouth with inward pointing brush-like teeth, and a very long filament on the dorsal fin, sometimes longer than their body length. An eye spike is larger on males than females.

Originally it was believed to be a butterflyfish, Linnaeus (1758) and was placed in the genus Chaetodon. He also thought there were two species, C. canescens and C. cornutus. As time passed, it was realized the only difference between them was their age, one being a juvenile and the other an adult. And furthermore, it was not in the butterflyfish family, therefore it was awarded its own family - Zanclidae, and recognized as one species.

In the wild they are found singly, in pairs, and often in small shoals, usually over hard rubble bottom areas in inner lagoons and outer reef areas. Their long snout is used to graze on small crustaceans, algae, including coralline, and sponges that normally inhabit small reef openings and crevices.

Without a doubt, a fish that is highly attractive and also a graceful swimmer, nevertheless, often referred to as a difficult fish to maintain long term.


Site Supported in Part by:
Premium Aquatics