Shaw's Cowfish, Aracana aurita (Shaw 1798)

Other Names: Painted Boxfish, Shaws Cowfish, Southern Cowfish, Striped Cowfish

A male Shaw's Cowfish, Aracana aurita. Source: Andrew J. Green / Reef Life Survey. License: CC by Attribution

The brightly-colored males have pale blue wavy lines and spots over an orange background. Females and juveniles have irregular brown wavy lines and stripes on a pale background.
Video of a female Shaw's Cowfish blowing jets of water to expose invertebrates buried in the sand.

Cite this page as:
Aracana aurita in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 May 2024,

Shaw's Cowfish, Aracana aurita (Shaw 1798)

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Widespread in the southern half of Australia, from Newcastle, New South Wales, to Kalbarri, Western Australia. Shaw's Cowfish inhabit rocky reefs and seagrass beds in sheltered bays, harbours, and coastal waters in depths of 10-160 m.


Dorsal fin 10-11; Anal fin 10-11; Caudal fin 11-12; Pectoral fin 11-12.
Body encased in a rigid box-like carapace comprised of large sculptured bony plates, with large recurved spines on bony ridges; dorsal and anal fins opposite and far back on the body; bony plates on tail base well developed, almost encircling tail in adults; lines on snout almost horizontal.


To 25 cm


Males and females are sexually dimorphic. Males are brightly-coloured, with pale blue wavy lines and spots over an orange background. Females and juveniles have a pale orange to pale brown background with irregular brown and white wavy lines or stripes.


Feeds on a range of benthic invertebrates, often exposing prey by blowing jets of water onto the sediment.

Similar Species

The lines on the side of the face of both male and female Shaw's Cowfish are more-or-less horizontal, whereas those of the closely-related Ornate Cowfish are more angled. Male Ornate Cowfish also have a distinct hump on the snout. Female Ornate Cowfish also have deeper bodies and narrower stripes.


The specific name is from the Latin auritus (= eared, having ears or having the form of an ear) in reference to the large horn-like spine above each eye that resemble ears.

Species Citation

Ostracion auritus Shaw, in Shaw & Nodder 1798, The Naturalist's Miscellany Vol. 9: pl. 338. Type locality: Islands of the Pacific Ocean (probably Tasmania).


Atlas of Living Australia

Shaw's Cowfish, Aracana aurita (Shaw 1798)


Coleman, N. 1980. Australian Sea Fishes South of 30ºS. Lane Cove, NSW : Doubleday Australia Pty Ltd 309 pp.

Currie, D. & Sorokin, S. 2010. A preliminary evaluation of the distribution and trophodynamics of demersal fish from Spencer Gulf. Report to the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences) Adelaide. SARDI Publication No F2010/000088-1, SARDI Research Report Series No 424

Currie, D.R. & Sorokin, S.J. 2010. The distribution and trophodynamics of demersal fish from Spencer Gulf. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 134(2): 198-227.

Donovan, E. 1824. The Naturalist's Repository; or monthly miscellany of exotic natural history. London Vol. 2 unnumbered pages pls 37–72 (Pl. 66, described as Ostracion tobinii, type locality Van Diemen's Land [= Tasmania])

Edgar, G.J. 2008. Australian Marine Life: the plants and animals of temperate waters. Sydney : Reed New Holland 2, 624 pp.

Grant, E.M. 1991. Fishes of Australia. Brisbane : EM Grant Pty Ltd 480 pp.

Gray, J.E. 1833. Illustrations of Indian Zoology; chiefly selected from the collection of Major-General Hardwicke, F.R.S. Fishes in Vol. 2 pls 88–102 London.

Gray, J.E. 1838. Notes on fish. Annals of Natural History 1: 109-111 (described as as Ostracion (Aracana) lineata) See ref at BHL

Holleman, W., Fennessy, S., Russell, B. & Matsuura, K. 2020. Aracana aurita. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T158883594A158883903. Accessed on 15 March 2022.

Hoschke, A., Whisson, G. & Moore, G.I. 2019. Complete list of fishes from Rottnest Island. pp. 150-161 in Whisson, G. & Hoschke, A. (eds).  The Rottnest Island fish book. 2nd ed. Perth, Western Australia : Aqua Research and Monitoring Services.

Hutchins, J.B. 1994. A survey of the nearshore reef fish fauna of Western Australia's west and south coasts — The Leeuwin Province. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 46: 1-66 figs 1-6

Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp.

Hutchins, J.B. & Thompson, M. 1983. The Marine and Estuarine Fishes of South-western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 103 pp. 345 figs.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 1994. Family Aracanidae. pp. 892-902, figs 788-794 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs.

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to sea fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp.

Last, P.R., Scott, E.O.G. & Talbot, F.H. 1983. Fishes of Tasmania. Hobart : Tasmanian Fisheries Development Authority 563 pp. figs.

Matsuura, K. 2008. Families Ostraciidae, Tetraodontidae. pp. 842-856 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

May, J.L. & Maxwell, J.G.H. 1986. Field Guide to Trawl Fish from Temperate Waters of Australia. Hobart : CSIRO Division of Marine Research 492 pp.

McCulloch, A.R. & Waite, E.R. 1915. A revision of the genus Aracana and its allies. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 39: 477-493 pls 16-25 (described as Aracana spilogaster spinosissima and Aracana spilogaster angustata) See ref at BHL

Richardson, J. 1840. On some new species of fishes from Australia. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 8: 25-30 (described as Ostracion spilogaster)

Richardson, J. 1844. Description of Australian Fish. (Part 2). Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 3(art. 5, pt. 2): 133-185, Pls. 7-11. (as Ostracion spilogaster) See ref at BHL

Scott, T.D., Glover, C.J.M. & Southcott, R.V. 1974. The Marine and Freshwater Fishes of South Australia. Adelaide : Government Printer 392 pp. figs.

Shaw, G. 1804. General Zoology or Systematic Natural History. Fishes. London : G. Kearsley Vol. 5 1-463 pls 1(or 93)-182 (described as Ostracion striatus

Shaw, G. in Shaw, G. & Nodder, F.P. 1798. The Naturalist's Miscellany, or coloured figures of natural objects; drawn and described from nature. London Vol. 9 pls 325–348, unnumbered pages.

Waite, E.R. 1921. Illustrated catalogue of the fishes of South Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum 2(1): 1-208 293 figs pl. 1. See ref at BHL

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37466003

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:10-160 m

Habitat:Reef associated, seagrass beds

Max Size:25 cm TL


Species Maps

CAAB distribution map