Ostracion rhinorhynchos - the horn-nosed boxfish

Boxfish or cowfish in Vietnam

Boxfish, or cowfish is an umbrella term for marin fish in the family Ostraciidae. Ostraciidae is a family of squared, bony fish belonging to the order Tetraodontiformes, closely related to the pufferfishes and filefishes. In Vietnamese, boxfish is known as Cá nóc hòm, but often reffered as Cá bò hòm.

Bluespotted boxfish - Ostracion immaculatus
Bluespotted boxfish – Ostracion immaculatus
  • Order: Tetraodontiformes
  • Family: Ostraciidae
  • English names: boxfish, cofferfish, cowfish and trunkfish
  • Vietnamese name: Cá nóc hòm (box pufferfish), cá bò hòm (box cowfish), cá thiết giáp (armored fish), cá bò (cowfish)

There are about 23 extant species in the world, and in Vietnam, 10 boxfish species are identified. They are: Lactoria cornuta, Lactoria diaphana, Lactoria fornasini, Ostracion cubicus, Ostracion nasus, Ostracion meleagris, Ostracion rhinorhynchos, Tetrosomus gibbosus.

The yellow boxfish Ostracion cubicus
The yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus)

They occur in rocks or coral reefs inshore or offshore, and are distributed from the north to the south of coastal Vietnam. Most of the boxfish species are rare, and of low economic value. They are mainly raised as ornamental or pet fish, and sometimes for handicraft products.

the longhorn cowfish Lactoria cornuta
The longhorn cowfish (Lactoria cornuta)

The yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus), the longhorn cowfish (Lactoria cornuta), and the horn-nosed boxfish (Ostracion rhinorhynchos) are three commonly found boxfish/cowfish used as pet fish in Vietnam.

Culinary uses


Like pufferfishes, boxfishes belong the the order Tetraodontiformes, which is known for the the lethal toxin callled Tetrodotoxin. There are reported cases that people get hospitalized after consuming boxfishes or pufferfishes.

Comsuming boxfishes as food is rare, but in Phú Yên (and a nearby province, Bình Định), boxfish is a local delicacy. The horn-nosed boxfish (Ostracion rhinorhynchos) is a common boxfish used as food despite that some documents stated that the fish species has toxins in the internal organs and blood.

Steamed horn-nosed boxfish - Ostracion rhinorhynchos
Steamed horn-nosed boxfish – Ostracion rhinorhynchos

The meat of boxfish is considered very delicious, white, sweeter than chicken but does not have a fishy smell. However, to be able to process pufferfishes or boxfishes, professional chefs must undergo 2-3 years of training before being allowed to process this DEATHLY delicacy.

Ostracion rhinorhynchos - the horn-nosed boxfish
Ostracion rhinorhynchos – the horn-nosed boxfish
Grilled bluespotted boxfish - Ostracion immaculatus
Grilled/roasted bluespotted boxfish – Ostracion immaculatus – served in a restaurant in Phan Thiết city

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