Moorish IdolZanclus cornutus

  • Fringing Reef
  • Moorish Idol
  • Fauna
  • Lagoon coral patches


Zanclus cornutus, belongs to the order of Perciformes and family of Zanclidae. It is commonly known as the Moorish Idol. The body of this species  has a compressed discoid shape. Its snout is prominent and tubular with a small  elongate mouth, and slightly curved teeth. Its dorsal spines are elongated with a whip like filament. Adults also have a bony protuberance in front of each eye, which is  usually larger  male individuals. Its body colour is white on the anterior part and yellow on the posterior part. It displays two large black bars vertically across the body. Its chin and caudal fin are black, and its dorsal fin is mostly white. A yellow saddle is present across its snout[1]. It has total of 6 to 7 dorsal spines, 39 to 43 dorsal soft rays, 3 anal spines and 31 to 37 anal soft rays[2].


[1] IUCN, ‘Zanclus Cornutus’.

[2] ‘Zanclus Cornutus Summary Page’.

Habitat and ecology

This species is present across the Indo-Pacific region. Zanclus cornutus has been recorded at depth ranges between 1 and 180m. It is found in coastal and offshore rocky areas as well as coral reefs and lagoons. This species usually forms pairs and the two individuals are usually seen together, however it may also form aggregations. Its diet is specific, consisting mostly of encrusting sponges but they also feeds on coral polyps, tunicates and other benthic invertebrates.


Conservation and management

According to the IUCN Red list, this species is categorized as being of ‘Least Concern’ as it is common and widespread. Population trend is stable. No conservation measures are in place for this species. However, it is present in many MPAs[1].


[1] Myers, Carpenter, and Lawrence, ‘Zanclus Cornutus’.

Did you know?

This species can reach a maximum recorded length of 23cm.

Zanclus come from the Greek word for “sickle” and refers to its sickle-shaped dorsal fin.

The species name cornutus is Latin and means “horn” and refers to the bony protuberance over the eyes of adults.

It is the only species in the family of Zanclidae.