Ornate Cowfish, Aracana ornata (Gray 1838)

Other Names: Ornate Boxfish

A pair of Ornate Cowfish, Aracana ornata, at Portsea, Port Phillip, Victoria, May 2016. Source: Christopher Mark / iNaturalist.org. License: CC By Attribution-NonCommercial


An endemic cowfish found only in southern Australia. Ornate Cowfish have a body encased in a rigid box-like carapace comprised of large sculptured bony plates, bony ridges with large recurved spines, dorsal and anal fins opposite and far back on the body, bony plates on tail base absent or rudimentary, and diagonal lines of the snout.

The striking males are covered in blue and orange stripes, spots and reticulations, and have a yellowish-orange tail with a pattern of blue lines. The males have also have a distinct hump on the snout. Females are dark brown with white or yellowish-white stripes and wavy lines; lines frequently circular dorsally; yellow to bright orange below.

Video of a male Ornate Cowfish in an aquarium.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2022, Aracana ornata in Fishes of Australia, accessed 27 May 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/834

Ornate Cowfish, Aracana ornata (Gray 1838)

More Info


Endemic to temperate waters of southern Australia, from Merimbula, New South Wales, to Esperance, Western Australia.

Ornate Cowfish inhabit bays, harbours, and sheltered coastal waters, usually in seagrass beds in depths to 15 m. The species is abundant in some parts of its range.


Dorsal fin 10-11; Anal fin 10; Caudal fin 11 Pectoral fin 10.


To 15 cm


Carnivore - feeds on benthic invertebrates.


Of no interest to fisheries, although taken as bycatch in commercial fisheries. The species may occasionally be traded in the aquarium industry.

Species Citation

Ostracion (Aracana) ornata Gray 1838, Ann. Nat. Hist. 1: 110. Type locality: Circular Head, Tasmania, Australia.


Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Ornate Cowfish, Aracana ornata (Gray 1838)


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 https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.1.3772.0404

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. https://doi.org/10.1080/3721426.2010.10887143

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

Gray, J.E. 1838. Notes on fish. Annals of Natural History 1: 109-111 (as Ostracion (Aracana) ornata and Ostracion (Aracana) flavigaster)

Günther, A. 1870. Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum. Catalogue of the Physostomi, containing the families Gymnotidae, Symbranchidae, Muraenidae, Pegasidae, and of the Lophobranchii, Plectognathi, Dipnoi, [thru] Leptocardii, in the British Museum. London : British Museum Vol. 8 549 pp.

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

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.

Matsuura, K., Amaoka, K. & Carpenter, K.E. 2020. Aracana ornata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T162917933A162917936. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-1.RLTS.T162917933A162917936.en. Accessed on 15 March 2022.

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.

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.

Thomson, J.M. 1978. A Field Guide to the Common Sea & Estuary Fishes of Non-tropical Australia. Sydney : Collins 144 pp.

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 (as Aracana flavigastra)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37466001

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:0-15 m

Habitat:Seagrass beds

Max Size:15 cm


Species Maps

CAAB distribution map