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/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

The Puffers Called Box-, Cowfishes, family Ostraciidae

by Bob Fenner

  Ostracion cubicus, Australia

Ostraciidae, from the Greek ostracum, meaning "shell", the box, trunk or cowfishes are found all over the tropical Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. Fourteen genera with about thirty three species. These may be the most characteristic of fishes with their bodies encased in a bony carapace.

The family is also notable for some members possession of "ostracitoxin" a toxic discharge substance of some trunkfishes. If/when sufficiently disturbed whole tanks, and recirculating systems of livestock have been wiped out. Though this is rare, the cautions listed elsewhere in this piece on netting, acclimation, and tankmates should be heeded if you intend to try a trunk/boxfish.

The genus Lactoria, especially Lactoria cornuta should be dealt with carefully; I have witnessed three poisoning "episodes" with this species, one from a dead specimen in a filter, another from a harassed individual, the third from the careless introduction of shipping water into a display system.

Lactoria and members of the genus Lactophrys are commonly called Cowfishes for their "horns", a conspicuous pair on the head and another doing rear-guard near the anal fin. The Smooth Trunkfish, Lactophrys triqueter is the most frequently offered member of the genus, with the Scrawled (Lactophrys quadricornis) and Honeycomb (Lactophrys polygonius) cowfishes occasionally available. All three hale from the western tropical Atlantic and grow to at least eleven inches in length. 

Genus Acanthostracion

See below, species moved to genus Lactophrys

Acanthostracion quineensis (Bleeker 1865), the Guinea Boxfish. Eastern Atlantic coast, along Africa's coast. To seven inches in length.

No pic

Acanthostracion notacanthus (Bleeker 1863), the Island Cowfish. Eastern Atlantic and mid-islands. To twenty inches overall length.

No pic

Lactophrys bicaudalis (Linnaeus 1758), the Spotted Trunkfish. Tropical west Atlantic. To nineteen inches. This one's about fourteen inches, in the Florida Aquarium, Tampa. More "spotty" appearing as juveniles. As the juvenile below.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)
 
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Lactophrys (now Acanthostracion) polygonius (Poey 1876), the Honeycomb Cowfish. Tropical west Atlantic. To about nineteen inches in length. Bahamas pix.

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Lactophrys (now Acanthostracion) quadricornis (Linnaeus 1758), the Scrawled Cowfish.  A small one (four inches) and adult one in the Bahamas. 

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Lactophrys trigonus (Linnaeus 1758), the Buffalo Cowfish. Tropical west Atlantic. To about eighteen inches in length. St. Thomas pic. 

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Lactophrys trigueter (Linnaeus 1758), the Smooth Cowfish. Tropical west Atlantic. To about eighteen inches in length. A juvenile and adult (3" and 12" respectively), in Tobago. And a ten inch individual in the Bahamas. 

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Lactoria cornuta (Linnaeus 1758), the Longhorn Cowfish. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea, east African coast. To some eighteen inches in length in the wild. At right, a profile in N. Sulawesi. Below; aquarium photos of two juveniles and an adult size specimen in Mabul, Malaysia.

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Lactoria diaphana (Bloch & Schneider 1801), the Roundbelly Cowfish. Southeast Atlantic, Indo-Pacific and east Pacific. To thirteen inches overall length. 

No pic

Lactoria fornasini (Bianconi 1846), the Thornback Cowfish. Indo-west Pacific, south-east Atlantic (South Africa). To nine inches. This four inch one in Hawai'i. The best member of the genus for aquarium use in my opinion (obviously).

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Lactoria paschae (Rendahl 1921). Southeast Pacific: Easter Island.

No pic

The Genus Ostracion: The Spotted Cube, Ostracion cubicus is a perennial favorite, especially as a bright yellow with black spots juvenile. It is a large fish in the wild, attaining some eighteen inches. On a smaller scale, the Black (female) and Blue (male) Spotted Boxfish, Ostracion meleagris is often seen as well.

About "Boston Beans": these are juveniles of various species of cowfishes and boxes, not a specific designation; they grow up to look like the adults of whatever species they are.

Ostracion cubicus Linnaeus 1758, the Yellow Boxfish. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea, east African coast around South Africa into the Atlantic. To eighteen inches long in the wild. At right: a juvenile in Fiji, Below: a sub-adult in captivity, an adult in the Cooks, and a aged individual in the Red Sea of about a foot in length. At the bottom an adult of color in Mabul, Malaysia.

 
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Ostracion cyanurus (Ruppell 1828), the Bluetail Trunkfish. Western Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Africa's eastern coast. Here's a beautiful male in Egypt's Sharm in the Red Sea.

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Ostracion immaculatus, Temminck & Schlegel 1850. Northwestern Pacific: Japan. Closely related to Ostracion cubicus of the Indo-Pacific.

No pic

Ostracion meleagris Shaw 1796, the Blue (male), Black (female) or Whitespotted Boxfish. Vying with the common Cowfish, Lactoria cornuta, for most commonly offered species in the family. Like other (demersal) Boxfish species, this one needs to be well fed... on the tank bottom, not the surface or mid-water. Take care with aggressive feeding tankmates. At right, a male in the Galapagos. Below: A female and male in captivity, Hawai'i, and a set in N. Sulawesi.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)

Ostracion nasus (Bloch 1785), the Shortnose Boxfish. Western Pacific. To twelve inches.

No pic

Ostracion rhinorhynchos Bleeker 1852, the Horn-nosed Boxfish. Indo-west Pacific. To fourteen inches in length.

No pic

Ostracion solorensis Bleeker 1852, the Reticulate Boxfish. Indo-Australian. To four inches in length. A great beauty and good choice for home aquarists. More and more available. A photo of a female Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia, and male in S. Sulawesi.

And a male in Mabul, Malaysia:

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Ostracion trachys Randall 1975, the Roughskin Trunkfish. Western Indian Ocean: Mauritius. To four inches in length.

No pic

Ostracion whitleyi Fowler 1931, Whitley's Boxfish. Central to western Pacific. Males found more westward only. To six inches total length. At right is a female (and male!) in Hawaiian waters, where males are exceedingly rare. Below, a female and male in Nuka Hiva, Polynesia where both sexes are much more common. Note the differences in color, markings between the females of Hawai'i and the Marquesas.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available

Paracanthostracion lindsayi (Phillips 1932). Southwestern Pacific: New Zealand.

No pic

Polyplacapros tyleri Fuji & Uyeno 1979. Southwest Pacific, New Zealand and east Australia. 

No pic

Rhynchostracion nasus Bloch 1875, the Shortnose Boxfish. To 30 cm. E. Africa, Red Sea to W. Pacific. Red Sea pic. http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=8192&genusname=Ostracion& speciesname=nasus

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Tetrosomus concatenatus (Bloch 1785), the Triangular Boxfish. Indo-west Pacific. To twelve inches.

No pic

Tetrosomus gibbosus (Linnaeus 1758), the Humpback Turretfish. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea, east African coast. To twelve inches in length. Here's one off of Na'ama Bay in Sharm, Egypt's Red Sea.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
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Tetrosomus reipublicae (Ogilby 1913), the Smallspine Turretfish. Indo-west Pacific, along east African coast. To twelve inches in length.

No pic

Deep/Coldwater Boxfishes: The Family Aracanidae or Subfamily Aracaninae: Some folks split off these genera, species on the basis of their carapace being open behind their dorsal and anal fins, and some other discernible external traits. The seven genera, 13 species rarely make it into the trade, but a few (below) are imported from where they are most commonly found (Australia).

Anoplocapros amygdaloides (Bleeker 1863), the Western Smooth Boxfish. Southeastern Indian Ocean: Australia's west and south coasts. To one foot in length.

No pic

Anoplocapros inermis Fraser-Brunner 1941, the Eastern Smooth Boxfish. Southwestern Pacific: Australia's eastern coast. To fourteen inches length in the wild. 

No pic

Anoplocapros lenticularis (Richardson 1841), the White-Barred Boxfish. Southeastern Indian Ocean: Australia's west coast. To thirteen inches in length. This one in captivity is about four inches. Typical for aquarium use import.

Anoplocapros robustus (Fraser-Brunner 1941), the Chubby Basketfish. West Pacific. To nine inches.

No pic

Aracana aurata (Gray 1838), the Ornate Cowfish. To six inches overall. Eastern Indian Ocean: Australia (southern Western Australia to Western Victoria and Tasmania).  Juvenile and adult pix in Oregon... http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=14562&genusname=Aracana&speciesname=ornata

Aracana aurita (Shaw 1798), the Striped Cowfish. Indo-west Pacific. To eight inches. Aquarium images of juvenile and adult at right and an intermediate individual below. 

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Aracana ornata (Gray 1838), the Ornate Cowfish. Southeastern Indian Ocean. To six inches in length.

 No pic

Caprichthys gymnura McCulloch & Waite 1915, the Rigid Boxfish. Southeastern Indian Ocean. To four inches.

No pic

Capropygia unistriata (Kaup 1855), the Black-Banded Pygmy Boxfish. Southeastern Indian Ocean. To five inches.

No pic

Kentrocapros aculeatus (Houttuyn 1782). Western north Pacific: South China Sea. To five inches in length.

No pic

Kentrocapros eco (Phillips 1932). Southwestern Pacific: New Zealand. To four inches.

No pic

Kentocapros flavofasciatus (Kamohara 1938). Western North Pacific and New Caledonia (antitropical in distribution). To five inches in length.

No pic

Kentrocapros rosapinto (Smith 1949), the Basketfish. Western Indian Ocean. To about five inches in length. 

No pic

And further regarding the keeping of ostraciids; they have not had a good record of success with marine aquarists, mainly related to diet or the lack of it. These fishes need food, green AND meaty on a regular basis; most are lost to outright starvation. Especially on first arrival, or when you acquire them, it is critical that the specimen begin feeding. Please see the notes under foods/feeding below.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Debelius, Helmut. Undated. Pufferfish in the marine aquarium. Aquarium Digest International #27.

Debelius, Helmut. Undated. Boxfish- those fascinating marine oddities. Aquarium Digest International #36.

Edmonds, Les. 1989. Boxfishes-armor in the aquarium. TFH 7/89.

Fong, Jack. 1994. The ten most amusing Boxfishes. TFH 8/94.

Lobel, Philip S. 1985. Spawning behavior of the spotted trunkfish, Ostracion meleagris. FAMA 8/85.

Michael, Scott W. 1997. The puffers; unique in many ways. AFM 8/97.

Michael, Scott W. 1998. Swimming boxes. Boxfish are interesting to keep, but choose their tankmates carefully to avoid disaster. AFM 3/98.

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World, 3d ed. John Wiley & Sons, NY.

Pyle, Richard L. 1989. Whitley's boxfish, Ostracion whitleyi Fowler. FAMA 7/89.

Quinn, John R. 1986. Puffers & friends; a look at the pros and cons of keeping the popular puffers. TFH 5/86.

 

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