Shorefishes of the Greater Caribbean online information system

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Species: Acanthostracion quadricornis, Scrawled Cowfish

All Families:   All Genera:   All Species:

spines before eyes
head & body irregular blue lines
blue stripe - snout to lower tail base
juvenile: grey + dark-ringed blue spots

Acanthostracion quadricornis (Linnaeus, 1758)

Scrawled Cowfish

Body oblong, thick, enclosed in a bony box formed by thickened, joined, enlarged scale plates that are usually hexagonal in shape; carapace has openings for mouth, eyes, gill slits and fins and tail, completely surrounds bases of dorsal and anal fins, has large spines projecting forward above eyes, and at lower rear corner, rear plates above and below tail base expanded as short spines; mouth small, at front, lips fleshy; teeth moderate, conical, usually <15 per jaw; gill openings short, oblique slits in front of pectoral bases; no spiny dorsal, soft dorsal and anal fins at rear of carapace; pectoral rays 11, rarely 12; no pelvic fins; tail base slender, flexible, tail fin a fan with a rounded end; dorsal, anal and pectoral fin rays branched; lateral line inconspicuous.

Grey brown to yellowish greens; a blue stripe from snout to origin of anal fin; numerous short to long irregular stripes and spots of dark blackish blue to bright blue; 3-4 parallel blue stripes on cheek; some fish without blue markings; juvenile pale grey-brown, with blue, dark-ringed spots.

Reaches 55 cm.

Lives mainly in seagrass beds, but also in sponge habitats.

Depth range: 2-108 m.

Both sides of the tropical Atlantic; Massachusetts to Brazil.

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  • Marine
  • Marine Only
  • Inshore
  • Inshore Only
Water Column Position
  • Bottom
  • Sand & gravel
  • Soft bottom (mud/sand/gravel/beach/estuary/mangrove/seagrass)
  • Soft bottom only
  • Sponges
  • Submerged vegetation
  • Reef (rock/coral/oyster)
  • Reef associated (reef + edges-water column & soft bottom)
FishBase Habitat
  • Reef Associated
Feeding Group
  • Corallivore
  • Data
  • Omnivore
  • Data
  • Soft corals/hydroids
  • Sponges/seasquirts/bryozoa
  • Benthic macroalgae/seagrasses
  • Benthic microalgae
  • Mobile benthic crustacea (shrimps/crabs)
  • Mobile benthic gastropods/bivalves
  • Mobile benthic worms
Egg Type
  • Data
  • Pelagic
  • Pelagic larva
Global Endemism
  • All species
  • Greater Caribbean non-endemic
  • Transatlantic (East+West Atlantic)
Regional Endemism
  • Also in Brazil
  • Continent
  • Continent + Island (s)
  • Extends N + S of GC
  • Extends North of GC
  • Extends South of GC
  • GC non-endemic
  • Island (s)
  • All species
  • Resident
Climate Zone
  • Equatorial (0-10N, Costa Rica / Venezuela)
  • Subtropical (23-35N, Florida / Carolinas / Bermuda)
  • Temperate (>35N)
  • Tropical (10-23N, Nicaragua / Cuba)
IUCN Red List
  • Least concern
  • Listed
  • Not listed
Length Max
  • 55
Depth Range Min
  • 2
Depth Range Max
  • 108