At Scubafish, Dragon Sea Moths are by far our favourite small marine creatures. It is always a delight to see one on a dive. They are one of the strangest and most adorable little fish in the world!
The Dragon Sea Moth, (Eurypegasus draconis,) also known as the Little Dragonfish and the Pegasus Sea Moth, belongs to the family Pegasidae, within the order Gasterosteiformes. They are named Pegasus, after a creature from Greek mythology. They are found in; coastal tropical waters, sheltered bays, estuaries and silty areas on the sea bed.
Interesting facts about Dragon Sea Moths
The Dragon Sea Moth is a bottom-dwelling fish, living on sand, coral gravel or mud at a depth of 5 – 90 metres. They will only feed on what they find on the seabed. They eat; amphipods, copepods, isopods, live brine and mysis shrimp, polychaetes, nematodes and trematodes.
Dragon Sea Moths have an unusual appearance; at first glance this odd little sea creature looks more like an insect, or a waterlogged bird than a fish! They have a flattened body, encased in thick, bony plates. They regularly shed their bony external armour in a single piece, in an effort to rid themselves of offensive organisms.
Their body armour provides some protection from predators. Their pectoral fins extend out of either side of their body, like wings, which allow them to ‘walk’ across the seabed. Their mouth has highly specialised features; a long snout, which they can form into a tube, allowing them to suck small invertebrates from their burrows. Their jaws are ventral and toothless, and are located behind their long snout. They are a small creature, only growing to about 6ins (15 cm.)
Dragon Sea Moths are masters of camouflage and have the ability to adjust their colour, based on their surroundings. They are often overlooked, because they are so small and resemble pieces of shell or rubble lying on the seabed.
Male Dragon Sea Moths have a broad blue-white edge to their pectoral fin, which may be ‘flashed’ when the fish is disturbed.
They remain motionless when sensing danger, but when threatened they will move at great speed, by beating their caudal fin.
They are usually seen in pairs, with pairs forming very long-term bonds.
Threats from humans to Dragon Sea Moths come from various sources. They are caught as bycatch, or purposely, for use in traditional Chinese medicines, or for sale to the aquarium trade. Bottom trawls and coastal development may detrimentally alter the habitat used by Dragon Sea Moths.
Techniques and ideas when Photographing Dragon Sea Moths
- Don’t crowd a Dragon Sea Moth
- Approach slowly and don’t scare or startle them
- Never surround a Dragon Sea Moth
- Don’t chase after them and don’t ever touch them
- Be careful when positioning yourself, make sure not to disturb the seabed, as this can frighten other sea creatures and also cause a cloud of backscatter, making it impossible to take your photograph
- Photograph Dragon Sea Moths in Macro mode. Most digital compact cameras have a Macro mode (designated by the flower symbol,) or if using a DSLR camera, you will need a Macro lens
- It is hard to get a good contrasting shot of Dragon Sea Moths, because of their location, causing them to blend in with their surroundings. Using strobes or a camera’s internal flash, can help to create shadows and bring out textures, making for a more contrasting photograph
- If strobes or flash are not an option, then use a manual white balance setting to get the correct colours
- Manual camera settings – Use a large Aperture (small f-stop) to blur the background, making the subject stand out more
- Fill the frame with the subject, get down to their level and get close
- A close-up portrait shot works really well
For more Macro tips and techniques, please take a look at our previous article ‘Macro Underwater Photography – Advanced Techniques’.