2000-05 Dragon Seamoth

By Denise Neilsen Tackett and Larry Tackett

After a long swim over a sandy bottom in my quest for something different, I was about to head back to the reef when something caught my eye. I circled the area several times before finding what appeared to be a wounded bird. After looking at it from several angles, I finally realized it was a Dragon Seamoth, a rare find. Imagine my delight when I spotted a second one nearby.

Seamoths are small (3-4 inches long) and closely related to pipefishes and seahorses, but have a body that is boxy and flattened. Their winglike pectoral fins attach horizontally, and long flattened nasal bones protrude from the head to form a rostrum or sensory organ. Seamoths lack swim bladders and spend their lives on the bottom. Specialized pelvic fins allow them to “walk” along as they search for food, particularly tiny crustaceans, which they suck up with a toothless mouth that extends from under the rostrum.

The mottled coloration of seamoths makes them difficult to see because they blend in well with their surroundings. They can change color quickly to match any substrata and periodically shed a layer of skin to rid themselves of growth that has settled on them. Seamoths are often seen in pairs; the female is a bit larger and her mate follows closely behind. At dusk, they leave the bottom and spawn in the water column so the eggs are carried away to the safety of the open sea to develop.

The scientific name, Eurypegasus draconis, is derived from the Greek and Latin words for the mythological winged horse and dragon. There are five species of seamoths and
at least one is used in traditional Chinese medicine for easing throat problems. They are active during the day and are found at all depths throughout the Indo-Pacific region, but their excellent camouflage makes them difficult to find. Look closely for them on sand, mud and rubble bottoms and in beds of Caulerpa algae.