News / Species Spotlight / Ornate Cowfish (Aracana ornata) (07/18/16)

Ornate Cowfish (Aracana ornata)

Ornate Cowfish (Aracana ornata)
Theres no doubt that the Ornate Cowfish has earned its name, as few fish can rival the exuberant appearance of this peculiar piscine, which practically exudes joie de vivre from each colorful scale on its bizarrely misshapen body. This is also one of the most rarely seen species in the aquarium trade thanks to its restricted distribution along the southern coastline of Australia and nearby Tasmania, making this one of the holy grails for aquarists keeping temperate water aquariums.

Aracana ornata is an instantly recognizable fish. Males wear a vibrant vestiture of stripes and spots that forms a dense honeycomb pattern across much of the body. The orange tail is particularly striking, being embellished with wavy turquoise lines and tending to be waved about flamboyantly as if to affirm to the world that, yes, it is indeed a fancy fish. No doubt, the girls take notice whenever this looker passes by.

The sexes are quite distinct in this species. The females are generally less-colorful (though still beautiful in their own right), lacking the blue markings on the body and the brilliant caudal fin of the males. They also have a predominantly striped body, which can take on fingerprint-like convolutions along the back in larger specimens. And, adding to this already odd-looking fish, both sexes sport a series of dramatic spines above the eyes and continuing along the back.

Caring for this species is thankfully no more challenging than any of its tropical relatives, save for the fact that a chiller is a required piece of equipment. While it can occasionally be found in rather warm shallow lagoons, most sources recommend keeping the temperature anywhere between 55-65. The diet is typically described as including benthic invertebrates, though there is little specific information on what this entails. Aquarium specimens adapt readily to a mix of frozen, meaty foods, and this species has been successfully kept with a wide range of organisms, including urchins, crinoids, sea stars, snails, anemones, gorgonians and corallimorphs. For tankmates, it is recommended to stick with other cooler-water species, which might include the Australian Old Wife Enoplosus armatus, the Japanese Angelfish Centropyge interrupta or the Catalina Goby Lythrypnus dalli.