Zanclus cornutus

Moorish Idol

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Moorish Idol



The Moorish Idol, Zanclus cornutus, is a small (up to 23 cm long) tropical and subtropical marine fish and the only species in the family Zanclidae. Vertically flattened, they sport black, yellow and white vertical strips and a very long white sickle-shaped extension off the dorsal fin (Zanclus translates to sickle in Greek). It has bony projections over its eyes. Found throughout the tropical pacific, it is also native to the coast of East Africa and the Indian Ocean. Individuals have been found off Florida, probably released from aquaria. Zanclus cornutus has a long pelagic (open water) larval stage, which is cited as the dispersal mechanism for this very widely-found species. The Moorish Idol inhabits mostly reefs in shallow waters feeding on corals, sponges and other small invertebrates. Mating for life, Moorish idols are usually found individually or in pairs, but they sometimes school in groups up to 100, especially as juveniles. Moorish idols have an impressive, convergent resemblance to several species of angel fish, especially species in the distantly related genus Heniochus (e.g. bannerfish Heniochus diphreutes, also called the false Moorish idol and pennant coralfish H. acuminatus, also called the poor man’s Moorish idol). Moorish Idols are sought for the aquarium trade, but are sensitive fish that are difficult to feed and often don’t last long in captivity. 


Indo-Pacific: East Africa to Rapa and Ducie islands, north to southern Japan and the Hawaiian Islands, south to the Lord Howe Island. Eastern Pacific: southern Gulf of California to Peru (Ref. 9267).


Generally denizens of shallow waters, moorish idols prefer flat reefs. The fish may be found at depths from 3 to 180 metres (9.8 to 590 ft), in both murky and clear conditions. The range of the moorish idol includes East Africa, Indian Ocean and the Ducie Islands; Hawaii, southern Japan and all of Micronesia; they are also found from the southern Gulf of California south to Peru.


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