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(Lactoria cornuta & Acanthostracion quadricornis)


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There are two species commonly referred to as a cowfish. Both are classified to the family Ostraciidae. Between the two species cowfish populations cover both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The scrawled cowfish or Acanthostracion quadricornis inhabits the Atlantic Ocean. The largest populations of these fish are found off the shorelines of Florida. They can be found in smaller numbers from as far south as Brazil to as far north as Massachusetts. The longhorn cowfish or Lactoria cornuta are most abundant in the Indo-Pacific. Their overall habitat extends from Japan to Australia and even stretches into the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coasts of Africa. Both species have elongated faces and characteristic sharp spines above their eyes. The combination of these two features makes them resemble a cow.

The Scrawled Cowfish

This particular species has a spotted color pallet. The spotting looks rather similar to the spots on a leopard. The scrawling on their bodies ranges from a bluish green to a yellow brown in color. Their body color too varies from blue to yellow. They all have a blue line that runs from their snouts to their anal fins. The defining spines above their eyes distinguish them from their close relatives the Trunkfish.

Scrawled Cowfish are shallow to mid-water dwellers. They swim in depths from 3 to 80 feet. They grow on average from 8 to 15 inches but have been measured as long as 18 inches. They often frequent aquatic grass beds. If it sees an intruder approaching it will remain motionless relying on its spotted coloration to act as camouflage.

The Longhorn Cowfish

The longhorn cowfishes' spines are much longer than his cousins, hence the name longhorn. They come in variations of yellows, browns and oranges. They too have spotting but it is not as dominant as it is on their Atlantic kin folk. A clear distinction of this species is the lack of a gill cover. Rather than possessing the flap common to other fish, they have a slit. They also do not have a pelvic region in their skeleton which means they lack pelvic fins. Instead of a pelvic skeleton the scales in the posterior region of their bodies fuse together into a solid triangular shape. This fusing allows for the presence of a tail fin. This species has a second set of spines protruding from the underside of their bodies at the beginning of the tail area. Their extraordinary uniqueness makes them the most well know cowfish in the aquarium trade.

These fish tend to live on the bottom of the coastal ocean floor lines swimming in waters as deep as 150 feet. This is a much smaller species. It will only grow to around 4 inches in length.

Species Commonalities

Cowfish have boxy bodies. They are often called boxfish. Their awkwardly shaped bodies make them slow swimmers. They are in fact ostrciiform swimmers. This type of swimming involves the undulation of the anterior region of the body as means of propulsion. This mode of locomotion is analogous to using a single oar at the stern of a boat. This peculiar method of transportation often makes these fish appear as if they are hovering.

Both species can be kept in a community tank. Neither should be housed with more aggressive species. They release toxin as a defensive mechanism. The death of these fish will also result in the release of their toxins.

These fish are omnivores. In the wild they use their rounded mouths to blow on the substrate and then feed on the live organisms and debris that is unearthed. In captivity they can be fed marine algae, live or frozen crustaceans or frozen marine food developed for omnivores.

Environmental Parameters


pH Level Specific Gravity
72-78  °F 8.1-8-4 1.020-1.025

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