Moorish Idol Fish Care Guide – Complete Aquarium Setup

O Moorish Idol (zanclus cornutus) is considered a fish with a unique appearance and sometimes aggressive behavior. This beautiful sea creature has beautiful colors, which range from bright yellow to dark brown with pink and orange spots all over the body.

In the wild, the Moorish Idol is found in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, in warm, shallow waters teeming with coral reefs. Most of the time, this fish is seen on sandy bottoms close to corals and rocks, however, the youngest of the species are usually found several kilometers from the coast. In addition, they prefer to live at depths that vary between 4 and 20 meters, but adults like shallower environments with depths between 1 and 2 meters.

Generally speaking, the Moorish Idol is a small fish, which can reach up to 23 cm in length in the wild. The species has contrasting bands of black, white and yellow spread across the body. In addition, this fish has a very small mouth and a more elongated and tubular snout. The fins of this animal are also usually small, except for the dorsal fin, which has spines that form a sickle-shaped crest.

If you are going to acquire a fish of this species, make sure it is dark and bright, not faded and lifeless. If the fins and tail look frayed or uneven, avoid buying it!

Continue reading the article to learn about the main characteristics and needs of the species.


Name: Moorish Idol;

Scientific name: zanclus cornutus (Linnaeus, 1758);

Family: Zanclidae;

Origin of Species: Indo-Pacific (East Africa to Rapa and Ducie Islands; north to south Japan and the Hawaiian Islands; Lord Howe Island; Eastern Pacific: south from the Gulf of California to Peru;

Length: Up to 23 cm (common: 21 cm);

Life expectancy: Between 2 and 4 years;

Difficulty level: Very difficult;

Water Parameters

pH: Keep between 8.1 – 8.4;

Carbonate hardness: Between 8 – 12;

Temperature: Keep between 24 – 28°C;



Omnivorous. Feeding the Moorish Idol can be quite a daunting task as he doesn’t tend to adjust very much to life in an aquarium. With the tendency to ignore the food offered, most of the time, this fish will be in poor health.

Younger specimens can adapt more easily to the environment, but they are very unpredictable in their feeding behavior. So, before buying a fish of the species, make sure that he is eating normally in the store.

For fish that refuse to feed, the aquarium should have plenty of live rocks filled with algae to stimulate their food cravings. Also, try to offer fresh or frozen shrimp, shellfish, squid and other types of protein-rich foods such as mysis shrimp and brine shrimp.

You can provide spirulina-enriched kibble, but aim to feed them up to three times a day.

Below, I have selected some excellent feeds for this species. So, if you want to buy them, just click on their respective links:

Temperament / Behavior

By nature, the Moorish Idol is a peaceful fish, but it can attack other fish if it feels threatened. Most aquarists describe him as quite shy.

Ideally, this fish should be kept alone in the aquarium, but it can still live in large groups in very large environments.

From experience I can tell you that large adults do not tolerate each other and therefore it is recommended that you keep a maximum of one pair in the aquarium. Younger fish can even live together, but you need to add them all together.


You can keep the Moorish Idol with other peaceful species. Some good aquarium companions include, for example, chromis, Wrasses and cave dwellers such as dottybacks more peaceful.

The species is not highly recommended for coral reef aquariums, since you might end up eating some of them. So I recommend that you avoid adding them in that kind of environment.

sexual dimorphism

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

Reproduction / Mating

There are no reports of this species breeding in captivity. It is known, however, that females usually spawn in the water column and the male fertilizes the eggs as he passes through them. A single female can produce hundreds of eggs at a time several times a year, usually in the spring and summer months.

Eventually, the clear, fertilized eggs float to the surface and join the flow of plankton where the larva feeds and develops into miniature adults.

aquarium setup

The aquarium needs to have at least 380 liters for a single specimen of the species.

To raise such a fish in an aquarium, you need to add a lot of live rocks so that it feels comfortable. That’s because the Moorish Idol is very territorial and likes places to hide. In addition, he also likes to dig into the substrate, so remember that there should be plenty of it in the aquarium.

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