Moorish Idol

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Zanclus cornutus - (Linnaeus, 1758)
Moorish Idol

One of the truly elegant reef fishes, but a challenge for aquarists. Scott W. Michael


This glorious fish has been on the want list of most marine aquarists at one time or another. Unfortunately, it is difficult to keep.

In most cases it will refuse to eat or will never take food with gusto and will slowly starve or decline in health. Several can be kept together.

Family: Zanclidae

Other common name(s):

Native range:

Habitat: Reef. Needs plenty of unobstructed swimming space as well as holes or crevices into which it can dive when threatened.

Maximum length: 23 cm (9 in)

Minimum aquarium size: 379 L (100 gal)

Water: Marine 24 °C (75 °F) - 28 °C (82 °F)

General swimming level: Midwater to bottom.


Very difficult to feed. Varied diet, including finely chopped table shrimp, squid, clams, mysid shrimp, vitamin-enriched live brine shrimp, live black worms, as well as vegetable matter.

Be sure to provide generous daily offerings of marine algae (dried or live). Also offer foods with Spirulina and leaf lettuce. Feed several times a day.

Reluctant feeders may require live rock with rich coralline algae and sponge growth (part of their natural fare) to survive acclimation.

Aquarium Compatibility

An occasional individual will nip large-polyped stony corals as well as certain soft coral polyps.


Unknown in captivity. Pelagic eggs and larvae. Young Zanclus cornutus settle out of the plankton at a large size—up to 8 cm (3.1 in) in length.

Reference: A PocketExpert Guide to Marine Fishes
Image credit: SWM
Text credit: SWM