Zanclus cornutus
Zanclus cornutus
(Moorish Idol)
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Zanclus cornutus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Common name: Moorish Idol

Synonyms and Other Names: Chaetodon cornutus (original combination); Zanclus canescens (synonym)

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: The Moorish Idol is the only species in the Family Zanclidae.  Dorsal spines VI-VII; dorsal soft rays 39-43; anal spines III; anal soft rays 31-37.  The dorsal spines are elongated into whip-like filament.  The body is deep and strongly compressed, with three wide black and two pale yellow bars.  The protruding, tubular snout has a yellow saddle across the top and contains long, bristle-like teeth.  Distinctive black, yellow and white coloration (see photo above).  Short horn-like projections above the eyes. 

Somewhat similar to the butterflyfishes Heniochus acuminatus (False Moorish Idol; Poor Man's Moorish Idol) and Heniochus diphreutes (Pennant Butterflyfish).

Size: to 23 cm TL (Froese and Pauly 2004)

Native Range: Wide-ranging in the Indo-Pacific and tropical Eastern Pacific, from East Africa to Micronesia, Hawai’i, Polynesia, México, and the Galápagos Islands.  From Randall (2005), Galván-Magaña et al. (1996), and Allen et al. (2003).

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Hawaii auto-generated map
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
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Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: In Florida this species was observed in the Pompano Beach area in 2001 (REEF 2008).

Ecology: This species occurs in a variety of hard-bottomed habitats, from turbid harbors to reef flats and seaward reefs (Myers 1999).  Usually, the species occurs in small groups, but it can forms larges schools of >100 individuals (Myers 1999).  The species feeds on algae, sponges and other invertebrates.  Larvae spend a long time in the plankton before metamorphosing at 40-75 mm TL (Burgess and Axelrod 1973; Myers 1999). 

Means of Introduction: Probable aquarium release.

Status: Reported from Florida.

Impact of Introduction: Unknown.

Remarks: Although present in the aquarium trade, the Moorish Idol is notoriously difficult to keep and generally does not do well in captivity.  Its high mortality rate in captivity has lead to import restrictions in some European countries (e.g., Germany). 

References: (click for full references)

Allen, G., R. Steene, P. Humann and N. Deloach.  2003.  Reef Fish Identification.  Tropical Pacific.  New World Publications, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida and Odyssey Publications, El Cajon, California.

Burgess, W. and H. R. Axelrod.  1973.  Pacific Marine Fishes.  Book 1.  T. F. H. Publications, Inc., Ltd.

Galván-Magaña, F., L. A. Abitia-Cárdenas, J. Rodríguez-Romero, H. Pérez-España and H. Chávez-Ramos.  1996.  Systematic list of the fishes from Cerralvo Island, Baja California Sur, México.  Ciencieas Marinas 22: 295-311.

Myers, R. F.  1999.  Micronesian Reef Fishes.  A Field Guide for Divers and Aquarists.  Coral Graphics, Davie Florida.

Randall, J. E.  2005.  Reef and Shore Fishes of the South Pacific.  New Caledonia to Tahiti and the Pitcairn Islands.  University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu.

The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). 2008. Exotic Species Sighting Program and Volunteer Survey Project Database, accessed March 10, 2008.

Other Resources:
FishBase Summary

Author: Schofield, P.J.

Revision Date: 4/27/2009

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Schofield, P.J., 2018, Zanclus cornutus (Linnaeus, 1758): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL,, Revision Date: 4/27/2009, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 3/22/2018

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/22/2018].

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