Moorish Idol (species: Zanclus cornutus) in Lizard Island Field Guide (Lizard Island Field Guide)
Zanclus cornutus
Moorish Idol

©Andy Lewis: An adult Moorish Idol
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Actinopterygii
Order Perciformes
Family Zanclidae
Genus Zanclus
Species Zanclus cornutus



Distinguishing features

A medium sized fish with a laterally compressed body and a long trailing filament off the dorsal fin. A series of thick alternating black and yellow-white vertical bars on the body


  • Up to 24 cm (Standard length)

Depth range

  • Depth range data is not yet available.



©Atlas of Living Australia: Australian distribution

Distribution and habitat preferences

Reef fronts, flats, and sheltered lagoonal and backreef habitats.

Can be found in most locations around the island.


The Moorish Idol is the only member of its family, and is most closely related to the Surgeonfishes. It has a very long pelagic larval stage with good dispersal capabilities, and this has resulted in a pan-Indo-Pacific distribution for this species. The post-larvae metamorphoses into the juvenile at about 7.5cm, an extremely large size for a reef fish. Juveniles maintain small territories on the reef, whereas larger individuals are generally seen in small groups of 2-5 and roam more widely. They feed on a combination of algae and small invertebrates.

Web resources


References that assist with identification

  • Leis, J.M. and B.M. Carson-Ewart (2000). Larvae of Indo-Pacific Coastal Fishes Brill, Leiden, pp. 1-850. LIRS catalog number 660.

Other references

  • Ceccarelli, D.M., M.J. Emslie and Z.T. Richards (2016). Post-disturbance stability of fish assemblages measured at coarse taxonomic resolution masks change at finer scales. PLOS One, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0156232. LIRS catalog number 1971.
  • Fulton, C.J. (2005). Wave energy and the role of swimming in reef fish ecology, Ph.D. thesis, James Cook University. LIRS catalog number 952.
  • View all references