Moorish Idol

The bars of color on the body of the Moorish idol may serve as “disruptive coloration” that breaks up the body outline and makes it harder for predators to tell where the fish begins and ends. Some researchers suggest that the long, white dorsal fin may also serve to increase the fish’s apparent size, so that it looks larger to potential predators.


  • The Moorish idol has a compressed, disc-like body that has contrasting bands of black, white, and yellow.
  • This fish has relatively small fins, except for the dorsal fin whose 6 or 7 spines are elongated to form a trailing, sickle-shaped crest.
  • It has a tubular snout with a small mouth containing numerous bristle-like teeth.

Fun Facts

  • It is said the Moorish idol got its name from the Moors of Africa, who supposedly believed the fish to be a bringer of happiness.
  • The Moorish idol is sometimes confused with the angelfish and the butterflyfish.
  • This species is the only one in this fish family.

CLASS: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
ORDER: Perciformes (perch-like fishes)
FAMILY: Zanclidae (Moorish idol)
GENUS/SPECIES: Zanclus cornutus

Size: Up to 9 in (23 cm)
Depth: 1–600 ft (3–180 m)
Diet: Sponges and algae
Habitat: The Indo-Pacific and tropical eastern Pacific, from East Africa to the Pacific coasts of the tropical Americas