Shorefishes of the Eastern Pacific online information system

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Species: Lactoria diaphana, Round-bellied cowfish, Spiny boxfish

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hard box with 5 horned ridges
mottled grey-brown



Lactoria diaphana (Bloch & Schneider, 1801)

Spiny boxfish, Round-bellied cowfish

Body oblong, thick, enclosed in a bony box formed by thickened, joined, enlarged, hexagonal scale plates; box pentangular: belly round and wide; box with 5 longitudinal ridges: 1 (weak) along top of back, a pair on upper back, a pair on lower flank; 1 spine before each eye, a large spine at rear end of each lower ridge, sometimes a small spine in mid-back; box with openings for mouth, eyes, gill slits and fins and tail base; mouth small, opens at front, lips fleshy;  teeth moderate, conical, usually < 15 per jaw; gill openings are short, oblique slits in front of pectoral bases; no spiny dorsal, soft dorsal and anal fins at rear of carapace; no pelvic fins; dorsal 9, anal 9, pectoral 10-11;tail base slender, flexible; tail fin 8 branched rays, a fan with a rounded end; lateral line inconspicuous.
Grey to pale brown, with indistinct dark blotches. Juveniles: yellow, with scattered small black dots.
Size: 34 cm.
Habitat: adults benthic around rocky and coral reefs; juveniles pelagic, sometimes enter estuaries.
Depth: 0-50 m.
Oceanic juveniles occur between California to the western Gulf of California to Chile and around the offshore islands.
Note: In the TEP adults can be pelagic and spawn in the pelagic environment. Benthic adults are rare in that region, while pelagic juveniles can be very common, and consumed by tunas.

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  • Marine
  • Brackish
  • Offshore
  • Inshore
  • In & Offshore
Water Column Position
  • Near Bottom
  • Bottom + water column
  • Bottom
  • Mid Water
  • Corals
  • Soft bottom (mud/sand/gravel/beach/estuary/mangrove/seagrass)
  • Reef associated (reef + edges-water column & soft bottom)
  • Rocks
  • Reef and soft bottom
  • Sand & gravel
  • Reef (rock/coral/oyster)
  • Flotsam
  • Water column
  • Estuary
  • Submerged vegetation
FishBase Habitat
  • Reef Associated
Feeding Group
  • Planktivore
  • Omnivore
  • Data
  • Sessile molluscs
  • Benthic microalgae
  • Sponges/seasquirts/bryozoa
  • Sessile crustacea
  • Sessile worms
  • Data
Egg Type
  • Pelagic larva
  • Pelagic
  • No data
Global Endemism
  • "Transpacific" (East + Central &/or West Pacific)
  • All species
  • All Pacific (West + Central + East)
  • Indo-Pacific only (Indian + Pacific Oceans)
  • TEP non-endemic
Regional Endemism
  • Island (s)
  • Continent
  • Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP) non-endemic
  • All species
  • Eastern Pacific non-endemic
  • Continent + Island (s)
  • Vagrant
Climate Zone
  • Equatorial (Costa Rica to Ecuador + Galapagos, Clipperton, Cocos, Malpelo)
  • Northern Tropical (Mexican Province to Nicaragua + Revillagigedos)
  • South Temperate (Peruvian Province )
  • Northern Subtropical (Cortez Province + Sinaloan Gap)
  • North Temperate (Californian Province &/or Northern Gulf of California)
IUCN Red List
  • Not evaluated / Listed
  • Not listed
Length Max
  • 34
Depth Range Min
  • 0
Depth Range Max
  • 50