Thornback Cowfish, Lactoria fornasini (Bianconi 1846)

Other Names: Spiny-backed Cow-fish, Thorny-back Cowfish, Thorny-back Cow-fish

A Thornback Cowfish, Lactoria fornasini, in Halifax Park, Port Stephens, New South Wales, December 2016. Source: John Turnbull / Flickr. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

A greenish to yellow or brown cowfish covered in blue spots, dashes and scribbles, with a pair of large spines projecting in front of the eyes, a second pair projecting from the rear of the ventro-lateral ridges, and a single spine on top of the body.
Cowfishes have bodies encased in modified scales forming fused hexagonal bony plates.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2020, Lactoria fornasini in Fishes of Australia, accessed 17 Jun 2024,

Thornback Cowfish, Lactoria fornasini (Bianconi 1846)

More Info


Houtman Abrolhos to N of Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia, and Princess Charlotte Bay, Queensland to southern New South Wales, with one record from the Gippsland Lakes, Victoria; also at Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species occurs in the tropical, Indo-west-central Pacific.
Inhabits sand, rubble and weedy areas near reefs and in estuaries.


Feeds on benthic invertebrates, often exposed by the cowfish blowing jets of water onto the sediment.


Santini et al. (2013) suggest that this species is more closely related to Tetrasomus than other species of Lactoria.


The species is named in honour of Italian amateur naturalist Carlo Antonio Fornasini, who worked in Mozambique.

Species Citation

Ostracion fornasini Bianconi 1846, Nuovi Annali delle Scienze Naturali. Bologna 2 5: 115, pl. 1. Type locality: Mozambique.


Bray, D.J. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Thornback Cowfish, Lactoria fornasini (Bianconi 1846)


Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls. 

Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp. 

Allen, G.R., Hoese, D.F., Paxton, J.R., Randall, J.E., Russell, B.C., Starck, W.A., Talbot, F.H. & Whitley, G.P. 1976. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Lord Howe Island. Records of the Australian Museum 30(15): 365-454 figs 1-2 

Bianconi, G.G. 1846. Lettera sul Ostracion fornasini, n. sp. de pesce del Mosambico. Nuovi Annali delle Scienze Naturali. Bologna 2 5: 113-115 figs

Francis, M. 1993. Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk, and Kermadec Islands, southwest Pacific Ocean. Pacific Science 47(2): 136-170 figs 1-2 

Francis, M.P. 2019. Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk and Kermadec Islands, southwest Pacific Ocean. Version: 2019.2 figshare. Collection.

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Lowe, G.R. & Russell, B.C. 1990. Additions and revisions to the checklist of fishes of the Capricorn-Bunker Group, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Special Publication Series 19: 1-27 

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Matsuura, K. 2014. Taxonomy and systematics of tetraodontiform fishes: a review focusing primarily on progress in the period from 1980 to 2014. Ichthyological Research 62(1): 72-113

Moyer, J.T. & Sano, M. 1987. Feeding habits of two sympatric ostraciid fishes at Miyake-jima, Japanese Journal of Ichthyology 34(1): 108-112.

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Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs. 

Santini, F., Sorenson, L., Marcroft, T., Dornburg, A. & Alfaro, M.E. 2013. A multilocus molecular phylogeny of boxfishes (Aracanidae, Ostraciidae; Tetraodontiformes). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 66: 153-160 (as Tetrosomus fornasini)

Whitley, G.P. 1933. Studies in Ichthyology No. 7. Records of the Australian Museum 19(1): 60-112 figs 1-4 pls 11-15 DOI: 10.3853/j.0067-1975.19.1933.691 (described as Paracanthostracion lindsayi levior)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37466018

Depth:3-73 m

Habitat:Reef associated, weed beds

Max Size:23 cm TL

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CAAB distribution map