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

    Up to 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

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.
  • Males and females 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, Japan and Korea, as well as Australia and Southern Africa.
  • 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.
  • Females quickly swim 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 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.
  • The flesh is poisonous.


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