The longhorned cowfish is a bright yellow member of the boxfish family and is named for the two horns that grow on the top of its head, resembling a cow or bull.
  • Size

    18 inches (46 cm)
  • Diet

    Bottom layer algae, various microorganisms and marine protozoans
  • Range

  • Habitat

    Sand or rubble on the bottoms of coral reef lagoons, flats and protected

Physical Characteristics

  • A type of boxfish, recognizable by its two pairs of long horns protruding from the front of the head, such as with a cow or bull, and also beneath the tail.
  • Male and female display a yellow to olive base color decorated with white or bluish spots.
  • Lacks an operculum, or gill cover, and has a small slit or hole instead.
  • Can grow up to 18 inches (46 cm) in length.

Animal Fact

The cowfish’s flesh is poisonous

Diet / Feeding

  • Omnivorous and feeds on bottom layer algae, various microorganisms and marine protozoans.
  • Blows jets of water into sandy substrate to feed on invertebrates.

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs primarily in the Indo-Pacific region including subtropical waters of the Red Sea and East Africa through Indonesia, northward to southern Japan and Korea, and southward to Australia and Southern Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Found mainly in sand or rubble on the bottoms of coral reef lagoons, flats and protected areas from 3 feet (0.9 m) to 164 feet (50 m).

Reproduction & Growth

  • Generally spawns in the evening at about sunset within a short 8-10 minute period.
  • The female quickly swims up into the water column followed by a larger male who presses his snout against the female’s abdomen.
  • Eggs and sperm are released into the surrounding water and are fertilized as the parents quickly return back down to the reef bottom.
  • The female sheds all of her eggs during one trip.
  • The male repeats this process with each member of the harem.

Conservation Status

  • ”Not Evaluated” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • A reef fish, often solitary and territorial (but can be found in pairs while mating).
  • Employs a unique method of swimming called ostraciiform locomotion – in which on the caudal fin moves from side to side – that causes the longhorn cowfish to look as though it is hovering.
  • With no pelvic skeleton, this species lacks pelvic fins.
  • Also known as “long-horns,” “horned boxfish” and “trunkfish.”
  • Horns as are thought to have evolved to make this cowfish hard for most predators to swallow.
  • Flesh is poisonous.


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