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Inside the World of a Moorish Idol

Moorish Idols on the reef

Scientific Name: Zanclus Cornutus

Hawaiian Name: Kihikihi

Moorish Idols are one of Hawai’i’s most recognizable reef fish. With bold, black and yellow vertical bands, and long trailing dorsal fins  Moorish Idols thrive in the coral habitat most preferred by the modern snorkeler, and by underwater videographers around the world.

1. Where in the world can you find Moorish Idols?

The first and best place to experience them is in Hawai’i, and we may be biased but it doesn’t get much better than Molokini Crater! Other places include Micronesia, Mexico and the Galapagos Islands.

2. What do Moorish Idols eat?

Moorish Idols prefer lots of yummy algae, sponges, and tunicates, which are small invertebrates that attach themselves to hard surfaces in the ocean, such as coral reefs, rocks, and even boat bottoms.

3. What is the range of Moorish Idols?

Once they become adults Moorish Idols tend to stick to a favorite reef or home area. This could be in a murky lagoon, or out in clear water on a reef. When they are young, though, Moorish Idols really get around. They experience an extended pelagic larval stage where they can be washed great distances across the ocean. Scientists believe this is one of the reason they can be found in so many places.

4. I just saw some Moorish Idols and I noticed that some have long, trailing dorsal fins and others do not. Is there a reason for this?

The dorsal fins of Moorish Idols tend to shorten with age. Longer trailing dorsal fins indicate younger fish. Shorter, trailing dorsal fins on a fully grown fish indicate an older, wiser Moorish Idol.

5. What do Moorish Idols look for in a mate?

Moorish Idols, like many humans, prefer consistency. If you see a Moorish Idol couple out on the reef, odds are they are mates for life!


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