Moorish Idol, Zanclus cornutus (Linnaeus 1758)

A Moorish Idol, Zanclus cornutus, at North Solitary Island, New South Wales, October 2013. Source: Ian Shaw / License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial

A strikingly reef fish with a strongly compressed disc-like body, a tubular snout, bony projections above the eyes (adults), and an elongated sickle-shaped dorsal fin. The Moorish Idol has two broad black bars on the body, and a yellow saddle across the snout.
It is the only species in the family Zanclidae.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2018, Zanclus cornutus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 29 May 2024,

Moorish Idol, Zanclus cornutus (Linnaeus 1758)

More Info


Known in Australia from Rottnest Island to Cassini Island, and offshore reefs of Western Australia, Ashmore Reef, Timor Sea, and from the northern Great Barrier Reef Queensland, to Bittangabee Bay, south of Eden, New South Wales. The species also occurs at Christmas Island in the eastern Indian Ocean, and Lord Howe Island, Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs, and Norfolk Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere, the Moorish Idol is widespread in the tropical, Indo-Pacific.
Inhabits coastal and offshore rocky and coral reefs, including lagoons. The species is often seen in pairs, although it may form aggregations.


Dorsal fin VI-VII, 39-43; Anal fin III, 31-37. 
Body strongly compressed, disc-like in shape; dorsal fin with elongate filaments; mouth small, tubular, with numerous elongate bristle-like teeth.


Feeds mostly on encrusting sponges, as well as consuming coral polyps, tunicates and other benthic invertebrates.


Although popular with aquarists, the Moorish Idol is difficult to keep in captivity, due to its primary diet of encrusting sponges.


Zanclus is from the Greek word for "sickle", in reference to the sickle-shaped dorsal fin. The species name cornutus is from Latin and means 'horn, in reference to the bony projections over the eyes of adults.

Species Citation

Chaetodon cornutus Linnaeus, 1758, Systema Naturae: 273. Type locality: Indies.


Bray, D.J. 2018


Australian Faunal Directory

Moorish Idol, Zanclus cornutus (Linnaeus 1758)


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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37437001

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:1-182 m

Fishing:Aquarium fish

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:23 cm TL

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