Scrawled Cowfish

Scrawled Cowfish, Acanthostracion quandricornis

The Scrawled Cowfish, Acanthostracion quadricornis, whose common Spanish name is torito cornudo, is a species in the Boxfish or Ostraciidae Family, which are known collectively as peces cofre in Mexico. Globally, there are only four species in the genus Acanthostracion, two of which are found in Mexican waters, both in the Atlantic.

The Scrawled Cowfish are very colorful subtropical fish that have deep bodies covered with hexagonally-shaped plates fused together to form a shell or true carapace. They have an overall gray-brown to yellow-green coloration with numerous dark to bright blue irregular bars and spots. They also have dark spots and blotches on their body and three or four parallel blue stripes on each cheek. They have a pair of spines on their head that project in front of the eyes and a pair on the rear corner of their carapace. Their head has a small terminal mouth with fleshy lips and less than 15 conical teeth on each jaw. Their caudal fin is rounded. They have no dorsal fin spines or pelvic fins. Their anal, caudal, and dorsal fins each have 10 rays. They have 13 to 17 gill rakers.

The Scrawled Cowfish are found in shallow water within grass beds and coral reef areas at depths up to 260 feet. They reach a maximum length of 55 cm (22 inches), but are normally in the 20 cm (8 inch) to 38 cm (15 inch) range. They consume sessile invertebrates such as tunicates, gorgonians, anemones, slow moving crustaceans, sponges, hermit crabs, and marine vegetation. They are slow swimmers and only able to generate propulsion via their anal, dorsal, and pectoral fins. They reproduce via pelagic eggs and pelagic larvae. They are fairly immune to predation by larger fish due to their protective external shell. They can also remain motionless for long periods of time relying on camouflage for defense.

In Mexican waters the Scrawled Cowfish are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Scrawled Cowfish is most likely confused with the Honeycomb Cowfish, Acanthostracion polygonius (chain-linked pattern on sides).

The Scrawled Cowfish are considered an excellent food fish and marketed fresh, however, they are known to contain Ostracitoxin and Cigua Toxin. They are caught primarily by traps and seine nets. They are also sold to the aquarium trade as they are very colorful fish.

Scrawled Cowfish, Acanthostracion quandricornis. Fish caught out of 15-foot water off Key West, Florida, August 2014. Length: 28 cm (11 inches). Photo courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.

Scrawled Cowfish, Acanthostracion quadricornis. Fish caught off the Anglins Pier, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Florida, February 2015. Length: 20 cm (7.9 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Scrawled Cowfish, Acanthostracion quadricornis. Fish caught off the Anglins Pier, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Florida, March 2015. Length: 19 cm (7.5 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.