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Acanthostracion quadricornis

Acanthostracion quadricornis (SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC )

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Cladus: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Cladus: Holozoa
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Superphylum: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Megaclassis: Osteichthyes
Superclassis/Classis: Actinopterygii
Classis/Subclassis: Actinopteri
Subclassis/Infraclassis: Neopterygii
Infraclassis: Teleostei
Megacohors: Osteoglossocephalai
Supercohors: Clupeocephala
Cohors: Euteleosteomorpha
Subcohors: Neoteleostei
Infracohors: Eurypterygia
Sectio: Ctenosquamata
Subsectio: Acanthomorphata
Divisio/Superordo: Acanthopterygii
Subdivisio: Percomorphaceae
Series: Eupercaria
Ordo: Tetraodontiformes

Familia: Ostraciidae
Subfamilia: Ostraciinae
Genus: Acanthostracion
Species: Acanthostracion quadricornis

Acanthostracion quadricornis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Original combination: Ostracion quadricornis


Ostracion tricornis (Linnaeus, 1758)


Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Holmiæ: impensis direct. Laurentii Salvii. i–ii, 1–824 pp DOI: 10.5962/bhl.title.542: 331. Reference page.
Acanthostracion quadricornis – Taxon details on Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).
Acanthostracion quadricornis in the World Register of Marine Species
Acanthostracion quadricornis in Catalog of Fishes, Eschmeyer, W.N., Fricke, R. & van der Laan, R. (eds.) 2022. Catalog of Fishes electronic version.

Vernacular names
English: Scrawled cowfish
português: Baiacu-chifrudo, baiacu-de-chifre, chifrudo, taoca, peixe-boi, peixe-vaca
svenska: Redigerar Fyrhornig koffertfisk

The scrawled cowfish (Acanthostracion quadricornis) is a species of boxfish native to the eastern Atlantic. They range in size from 8–15 inches (20–38 cm), with a maximum length of 18 inches (46 cm), and can be found at depths between 6 and 80 feet (1.8 and 24.4 m). It is common to occasional in Florida and Bahamas; occasional to uncommon in the Caribbean. It also occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, north to Massachusetts, Bermuda and south to Brazil in tropical and warm temperate waters.


The scrawled cowfish spawns during the months of January and February, and July through September. They release the eggs in pelagic waters and eventually settle as juveniles out of the water column.
Acanthostracion quadricornis
Acanthostracion quadricornis, juvenile

It has distinctive features such as a scrawled pattern of bluish markings covering its body; a blue line runs from snout to anal fin and it has a pair of sharp spines above each eye, giving the name "cowfish" because they resemble the horns of a cow. This latter point distinguishes cowfish from trunkfish. Overall it is colored blue-green to yellow cast. However, it may darken, pale and change color. Significantly it has two sharp spines in front of anal fin. Pelvic fins and spiny dorsal fin are not found on the cowfish. Almost always there will be dark, blotchy spots along the body, and three to four horizontal lines on the cheek. They have usually less than fifteen teeth in each jaw. As with other species of boxfish, the scrawled cowfish's bony carapace gives it a distinctly angular appearance; its oblate form has been compared to a frisbee.[2]

Because the scrawled cowfish is a shallow water species, it will mostly always be found in and along grass beds. If disturbed it may remain motionless apparently relying on camouflage.

The scrawled cowfish likes to eat small invertebrates such as crabs and tunicates. It also will feed on some species of marine vegetation.
Importance to humans
Acanthostracion quadricornis as part of a dish in Margarita Island

Scrawled cowfish can be quite tasty if cooked properly. It is locally abundant in the Caribbean region and often sold fresh. Although they are very good to eat, in many places around the world they are used as an aquarium fish because of their beautiful coloration.

Leis, J.L.; Matsuura, K.; Shao, K.-T.; Hardy, G.; Zapfe, G.; Liu, M.; Jing, L.; Robertson, R.; Tyler, J. (2015). "Acanthostracion quadricornis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015: e.T193647A2253412. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T193647A2253412.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.

Cara Giaimo, "How the World's Squarest Fish Gets Around", in The New York Times, 15 Apr. 2020.


Humann, P. & Deloach, N., Reef fish identification, Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, 2003, 481 p., p. 388-389
Acanthostracion Quadricornis Summary Page." FishBase. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2014. <>.
"FLMNH Ichthyology Department: Scrawled Cowfish." FLMNH Ichthyology Department: Scrawled Cowfish. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2014. <>.
Page, L. M., H. Espinosa-Perez, L.T. Findley, C. R. Gilbert, R. N. Lea, N. E. Mandrak, R. L. Mayden, and J. S. Nelson. 2013. Common and scientific names of the fishes from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, 7th Edition. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 34, Bethesda Maryland.

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