moorish idols

Moorish Idol

The Moorish Idol fish is extremely common in the Indo-Pacific and around the reefs of Thailand. They are the sole species in the Zanclidae family, they look quite similar to Angelfish.

Distinguishing Features

Like many other tropical fish, the Moorish Idol has a laterally compressed body with bright bands of colour, mainly black, white, blue or yellow. They have a large dorsal fin with six or seven spines. These come together to form a long elongated philomantis extension, which trails behind them. Another prominent feature is their long tubular snout, containing bristle-like teeth. Moorish Idols can reach a maximum length of 23 cm.


Moorish Idols like to live in tropical and subtropical waters, mainly around reefs and lagoons. They prefer shallow waters, above flat reefs in particular. Occasionally they venture out into open water, but only in large groups. At night, they stick to the ocean floor and hide hide from predators that hunt in the dark.

moorish idols Similan Islands

Feeding Habits

Moorish Idols are omnivores; they eat coral polyps and sponges, and also tunicates and other small invertebrates, such as brine shrimp.


Something special about the Moorish Idol is that they mate for life. A pair will stay together throughout their lifespan, unless one of the dies or is killed by a predator. These fish are pelagic spawners, which means they release their eggs and sperm in the water column.

Life Cycle

They have an unusually long larval stage. Before a Moorish Idol becomes a juvenile, they need to reach a length of 7.5 cm. Then the juveniles retreat to the reefs to feed and grow. Adult Moorish Idols usually spend most of their time alone, or form small groups of 2-3. The juveniles tend to congregate in small schools until they reach maturity.

Moorish Idol Factiods

  • Acquired its name from the Moors of Africa, who thought the fish to be a bringer of happiness.
  • In Hawaii, the Moorish Idol is called ‘Kihikihi’, which means ‘curves’ or ‘zigzags’, referring to its shape and colour pattern; characteristic stripes and discoid bodies.
  • Although a popular choice for saltwater aquariums, they have difficulty adjusting to captivity. They grow rapidly and when kept in captivity, can easily outgrow their tank. They are very active fish and need a lot of swimming space.
  • In Finding Nemo, one of the fish in Nemo’s tank, Gill, is a Moorish Idol.
  • The Moorish Idol is generally a timid fish, although adult males can be hostile or territorial towards each other.

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