You see the Moorish Idol in ones, twos or large groups in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It’s not found in the Northern Red Sea though. They are very easy to recognise, with their daytime black, white and yellow colours. They also have a distinctive orange band over the long nose which they poke into cracks and crevices on the reef to feed on coralline algae and sponges.

Moorish Idols change to a darker colour at night, to reduce their chances of being spotted by nocturnal predators. The darker hues blend in with the gloom and help to break up their outline.

Moorish Idol
Moorish Idol. Photo: Vincent Kruger

The common name, Moorish Idol, is said to originate from the Moors of Africa who purportedly believed the fish to be a bringer of happiness. It is the only species in the family Zanclidae.

Moorish Idols mate for life. They live at depths of 3 to 180 m.

Like many fish species, they are moving north from their traditional areas. Up until last year, for example, none were found in the north of the Sea of Cortez, only in the south. However, they are now confirmed sightings 200 km north of their previously known limit.

Moorish IdolImage: Tim Nicholson
Moorish Idol in the Sea of Cortez. Photo credit Tim Nicholson.

Further Reading:

Coral Reef Fishes, Indo-Pacific and Caribbean
J. Fernández-Rivera Melo et al. Northernmost Occurrence of Zanclus cornutus (Zanclidae) in the Eastern Pacific (Northern Gulf of California, Mexico)< /em>. Thalassas: An International Journal of Marine Sciences October 2018, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 301–304

Image credits:

  • Moorish Idol: Tim Nicholson