Profile of the Moorish Idol Fish

Moorish idol fish

Moorish idol fish are elegant, gorgeous, and stunning in the aquarium. They're also uncommon. Aquariums, rather than the oceans. In confinement, most die quickly. The majority do not make it within a week of your purchase. The main reason is that they are such that they would sooner go hungry than eat something they dislike.


Origin and Distribution

Throughout the Red Sea, the Indo-Pacific, and the eastern Pacific waters, the Moorish idol may be found. It's been seen in the western Pacific, from Kominato, Japan, to Lord Howe Island, New Zealand, and in the eastern Pacific, from the southern Gulf of California to Peru.

It is called the Moorish idol as a reference to the Moors of North Africa, who are said to believe that the fish can bring happiness to those who dwell near it.

It is the only member of the family Zanclidae and a very close relative of the tangs or surgeonfish.

Colors and Markings

These fish have disk-shaped bodies and are sometimes confused with butterflyfish, which have disk-shaped bodies and similar colour. Black, white, and yellow bands contrast sharply on Moorish deities. Small mouths protrude from the ends of long, tubular snouts, and the mouth is lined with numerous long bristle-like teeth. Except for the dorsal fin, which possesses spines that form a trailing, sickle-shaped crest, the fish have tiny fins. Zanclus cornutus is its scientific name, which refers to its characteristic trailing crest. The name Zanclus derives from the Greek word cornutus, which means "horned" and signifies "bow on the back." As a result, "horned scythe" was born.

If you're buying a Moorish idol, be sure the color marks are vibrant and dark, not faded or washed out. If the fins and tail seem frayed or ragged, or are partially burned off around the margins, and the fish's eyes are hazy, this is most likely due to ammonia burns, which are caused by improper collection and shipping techniques but can also be caused by poor aquarium water quality and management.

If the sickle-shaped streamer is absent but a new, little white filamentous-like growth is growing out of where the streamer used to be, it's a good indicator that the fish is getting the attention it needs and is recuperating and regaining health. Now, if the streamer is gone but no new growth has appeared, it's a good idea to wait a week or two to observe how the fish is doing.

The stomach region should not seem concave or depressed, and the fish's skeletal structure should not be visible beneath the skin.


The Moorish Idol is a calm fish that does well in a tank with other non-aggressive fish. Chromis, predatory grazers like wrasses, and cave-dwellers like more calm dottybacks are all possible tankmates. Many people have different ideas on how to keep large groups of these fish together. Some hobbyists advise keeping this fish alone or in mated couples, while others advocate introducing them to an aquarium in groups of 4, 6, 10, or whatever.

We know from experience that huge mature adults have a limited tolerance for one another, therefore maintaining a single specimen or a married pair is best. In terms of youngsters, while this fish appears to get along well as a group, its conduct toward one another can be unpredictable. A group of smaller Moorish Idols may get along great at times, but at other times, one renegade in the group may become dominant and decide to pick on the others.

Moorish Idol Habitat and Care

When Moorish idols feel threatened, they should be given plenty of unrestricted swimming area as well as abundance of reef-like hiding spots. A 150-gallon tank is ideal, however a 100-gallon tank would suffice.

Large polypod stony corals and certain soft coral polyps are favorites of Moorish Idols. Although this fish prefers to consume coralline algae and sponges in nature, it is possible that it will eat other sessile invertebrates or even motile crustaceans.

Moorish Idol Tang Diet

Larger species are notoriously difficult to keep and do not adapt well to aquarium living. Because they have a tendency to disregard food presented to them, their health will most likely deteriorate as a result of gradual hunger. Although smaller juvenile or sub-adult individuals may be more adaptable to their environment, their eating behavior is still unpredictable.

Make sure the one you buy is a proven eater before you get it. If you're buying from an aquarium store, make it clear that you want a proven eater. If the fish has already been fed, inquire about the next feeding and return to see it for yourself. Then, exactly match the food that the store is utilizing. Maintain the same feeding routine.

To keep fish that refuse to eat alive in captivity, a live rock rich in coralline algae and sponge development may be required to stimulate the fish's appetite. Fresh or frozen finely chopped shrimp, clams, squid, and other meaty dishes ideal for carnivores, live mysid and brine shrimp, some vegetable matter, and additional vitamin-enriched prepared diets with marine algae and spirulina are also good options. Feed every two to three hours.

Sexual Differences

This species does not seem to have any unique identifying characteristics between the sexes.  

Breeding of the Moorish Idol 

The Moorish idol, like its surgeonfish siblings, is a pelagic species, meaning it eggs in groups and is a free-spawner or egg-scatterer. The female ejects her little eggs into the water column, and the male swims over and through it, fertilizing the eggs as he passes. Several times a year, generally in the spring and summer, the female lays hundreds of eggs at a time.

The clear, fertilized eggs float to the surface and join the stream of plankton where the larva feed and develop into miniature adults. 


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