Moorish idol

Moorish idol
Moorish idol
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Zanclidae
Genus: Zanclus
Cuvier in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1831
Species: Z. cornutus
Binomial name
Zanclus cornutus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The moorish idol, Zanclus cornutus ("Crowned Scythe"), is a small marine fish species, the sole extant representative of the family Zanclidae (from the Greek zagkios, "oblique") in order Perciform. A common inhabitant of tropical to subtropical reefs and lagoons, the moorish idol is notable for its wide distribution throughout the Indo-Pacific. A number of butterflyfishes (genus Heniochus) closely resemble the moorish idol. It is closely related to, if not a direct descendant of the extinct Eozanclus brevirhostris, from the Middle Eocene of Monte Bolca.

The moorish idol got its name from the Moors of Africa, who purportedly believe(d) the fish to be a bringer of happiness. Moorish idols are also popular aquarium fish, but despite their popularity, they are notorious for short aquarium lifespans and sensitivity.[citation needed]


Physical description


With distinctively compressed and disk-like bodies, moorish idols stand out in contrasting bands of black, white and yellow which make them attractive to aquarium keepers. The fish have relatively small fins, except for the dorsal fin whose 6 or 7 spines are dramatically elongated to form a trailing, sickle-shaped crest called the philomantis extension. Moorish idols have small terminal mouths at the end of long, tubular snouts; many long bristle-like teeth line the mouth.

The eyes are set high on the fish's deeply-keeled bodies; in adults, perceptible bumps are located above each. The anal fin may have 2 or 3 spines. Moorish idols reach a maximum length of 23 centimeters (9.1 in). The sickle-like dorsal spines shorten with age.

Range and habitat

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.


Sponges, tunicates and other benthic invertebrates constitute the bulk of the moorish idol's diet in the wild. Captive moorish idols typically are very picky eaters. They will either eat nothing (common) and perish or eat everything (uncommon). Small portions of avocado and banana are sometimes fed in captivity.[1]


Often seen alone, Moorish idols also form pairs or occasionally small schools, especially as juveniles. They are diurnal fish, sticking to the bottom of the reef at night, adopting a drab coloration. Like butterfly fish, they mate for life. Adult males display aggression toward one another.


Moorish idols are pelagic spawners; that is, they release eggs and sperm in the water column, leaving fertilized eggs to drift away with the currents. The impressive range of these fish may be explained by the unusually long larval stage. The fish reach a length of 7.5 centimeters (3.0 in) before becoming free-swimming juveniles.

In aquaria

A comparison of the three remarkably similar fish, the moorish idol (left), schooling bannerfish (top), and pennant coralfish(bottom)

Moorish idols are notoriously difficult to maintain in captivity. They require large tanks, often exceeding 100 US gallons (380 l; 83 imp gal),[2] are voracious eaters, and can become destructive.[3]
Some aquarists prefer to keep substitute species that look very similar to the Moorish Idol. These substitutes are all butterflyfishes of the genus Heniochus, and include the pennant coralfish, H. acuminatus; threeband pennantfish, H. chrysostomus; and the false moorish idol, H. diphreutes.

Cultural references

  • In the 2003 Pixar film Finding Nemo, a moorish idol named Gill (voiced by Willem Dafoe) was one of Nemo's tank inhabitants.
  • Moorish Idols have long been among the most iconic of coral reef fauna. They have graced all types of underwater-themed products, such as shower curtains, blankets, towels, and wallpaper.


  1. ^ "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". Random Reddit Comment. Retrieved 8/18/2010. 
  2. ^
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Look at other dictionaries:

  • moorish idol — /mɔrɪʃ ˈaɪdl/ (say mawrish uydl) noun (plural moorish idol or moorish idols) a small, handsome, boldly marked fish, Zanclus canescens, found in Australian waters and elsewhere. Usage: For variation in the plural inflection, see note at fish1 …  

  • Moorish idol — a black, white, and yellow fish, Zanclus cornutus (or canescens), inhabiting the tropical Indian and Pacific oceans, having a long snout and an elongated dorsal fin. * * * ▪ fish  (Zanclus canescens), deep bodied, tropical and subtropical reef… …   Universalium

  • moorish idol — pilkoji musulmonžuvė statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas taksono rangas rūšis atitikmenys: lot. Zanclus canescens angl. moorish idol; toby rus. серый занкл ryšiai: platesnis terminas – musulmonžuvės …   Žuvų pavadinimų žodynas

  • moorish idol — raguotoji musulmonžuvė statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas taksono rangas rūšis atitikmenys: lot. Zanclus cornutus angl. moorish idol; toby rus. мавританский идол; рогатый занкл ryšiai: platesnis terminas – musulmonžuvės …   Žuvų pavadinimų žodynas

  • moorish idol — noun Usage: usually capitalized M : a brightly colored fish (Zanclus cornutus) or a related form (Z. canescens) both widely distributed in the tropical Indo Pacific from the east coast of Africa to Japan and the west coast of Mexico * * * a black …   Useful english dictionary

  • Moorish idol — noun a disc shaped fish with bold vertical black and white bands and a very tall tapering dorsal fin, of coral reefs in the Indo Pacific region. [Zanclus cornutus.] …   English new terms dictionary

  • Moorish idol —   Kihikihi …   English-Hawaiian dictionary

  • Moorish — adj. of or relating to the Moors. Phrases and idioms: Moorish idol a brightly coloured Pacific fish of the genus Zanclus …   Useful english dictionary

  • List of fishes of India — This is a list of the fish species found in India and is based on FishBase. [Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2006.FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. [] , version (05/2006)] AlbuliformesAlbulidae… …   Wikipedia

  • Finding Nemo — Original theatrical release poster Directed by Andrew Stanton Lee Unkrich …   Wikipedia

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