Moorish Idol Click to enlarge image
A Moorish Idol at Hideaway Island, Fiji, 2012. Image: Matt Dowse
© Matt Dowse

Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Size Range
    The species grows to 24 cm in length.


The Moorish Idol is a beautiful tropical species that has a has a very long, white dorsal fin. The species is commonly seen by divers in the tropics but also occasionally in temperate waters.


The Moorish Idol has a very long, white, sickle-shaped dorsal fin, two broad black bars on the body, and a yellow saddle across the snout. There is a small, bony projection in front of both eyes of adults. The projections are larger in males.

The genus name Zanclus comes from the Greek word for "sickle" and refers to the sickle-shaped dorsal fin. The species name cornutus is from the Latin word for "horn", and presumably refers to the bumps over the eyes of adults.

The Moorish Idol is the only species in the family Zanclidae.


This species has a widespread Indo-Pacific distribution in tropical and some temperate waters. In Australia it is known from the central Western Australian coast, around the tropical north and south to southern New South Wales. It can be found from the shallows to depths in excess of 180 m.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Source: Atlas of Living Australia

Feeding and diet

It uses its long snout to feed on coralline algae and sponges in cracks and crevices.

Other behaviours and adaptations

It is sometimes seen as a single individual, but often forms pairs and occasionally larger schools.


  1. Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Western Australian Museum. Pp. 292.
  2. Allen, G.R. & R. Swainston. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Western Australian Museum. Pp. 201.
  3. Brown, R.W. 1956. Composition of Scientific Words. R. W. Brown. Pp. 882.
  4. Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. Pp. 180.
  5. Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.
  6. Kuiter, R.H. 2000. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Gary Allen. Pp. 437.
  7. Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & R.C. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford House Press. Pp. 557.