Moorish Idol

Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus) as seen in our Sea & Me exhibit.

Although they may look similar to Angelfish or Butterflyfish, the Moorish Idol is actually a member of the Surgeonfish family which include Tangs and Unicornfish. They are one of the more recognizable tropical species, often represented in art, photography and popular culture. The fish has a disk-shaped body with elegant, tapering fins. The dorsal fin narrows to a thin point in adults which can reach the same length as the fish’s body. The body is divided into wide vertical bands of black and yellow. This coloration is more than simply decorative. The bands act as a kind of camouflage, confusing prey or helping the Idol hide in the dappled light of the coral reef. Adult specimens can grow up to 9 inches (23 cm) maximum. As the name implies, this fish was an important species to the Moors, a diverse group of people who occupied southern Spain and northern Africa during the Middle Ages. The Moors considered it a symbol of good luck and happiness.

Range & Habitat

This fish is a common resident to tropical and subtropic lagoons and reefs in the South Pacific. They have a wide-distribution and are a favorite subject for underwater photographers due to their striking colors.

Conservation Status