Wednesday 11 December 2013

Sea Moth

Image: Klaus Steifel
This titchy fish is built like a TANK! It also comes armed with bat wings, wee little legs and a nose like the gun on a TANK!

It's Pegasidae, a family containing just 5 species of adorable, armour-plated Sea Moths. They're also known as Dragonfish and the family name comes from Pegasus...

The sparkling horn, the glistening fur, the firm, round buttocks. That's Pegasus all right.
Moths, dragons and flying horses? Someone needs to make up their mind! Maybe Sea Moths are like those ink blot tests? You describe what it looks like to you and we all learn about the dingy parts of your personality you prefer not to tell yourself about. To me, they look like a squirrel fighting a pigeon over a pile of breadcrumbs in the shape of love. I wonder what that means?

The Short Dragonfish is the most widespread of them all, occurring in coastal areas all over the Indian Ocean and much of the Pacific. Others extend along east Africa and there's even one around Hawaii. So while the family is small, they're still no slouch when it comes to spreading themselves far and wide.

Image: Ria Tan
Slender Sea Moth (Pegasus volitans)
The Slender Sea Moth is the longest, reaching up to 18 cm (7 in) long. The others are more or less half that. The Slender Sea Moth is also known as the Longtail Sea Moth. It's slender and it has a long tail. It also lives in the sea. But it's not a moth, because that kind of clarity in naming just cannot be allowed to continue.

Image: prilfish
Other Sea Moths are much more boxy in shape. Their entire body is encased in a lumpy, bumpy suit of bony armour which they shed every few days to rid themselves of parasites and algae. There are no loofahs in the sea, unfortunately.

With their bone-armour and sandy colours, Sea Moths are able to hang out on the seabed with confidence. But how can they get around when they live in a bone box?

Image: Randall, J.E.
Might gigantic fins help? Sea Moths have amazing pectoral fins reminiscent of Flying Gurnards. They look spooky and bat-like. I imagine a tiny Batman riding his Sea Moth into the dark heart of crime, trying to avoid that awkward conversation about how bats usually eat moths.

Image: Randall, J.E.
And if you can look past the giant, majestic pectorals, you might see the strange pelvic fins. They look like nothing more than thin, curved spikes. What could they possibly be for?

Video: liquidguru

Walking, of course! Those spindly fins allow Sea Moths to waddle along the sandy seabed in search of morsels to eat. It's a strange sight. This small, bulky creature with flamboyant, overgrown fins and enormous schnoz, trundling along with eyes bouncing around looking everywhere at once.

And then they find something to eat. A tiny worm or crustacean or eggs or larvae or... anything really. Now their mouth shoots out and forms itself into a tube to suck up their minuscule prey.

Image: Klaus Stiefel
The bony armour, the flittering eyes, maybe even the momentarily tube-like mouth... all a bit Seahorse isn't it? Indeed, Sea Moths have often been placed in the Sygnathiformes order along with Seahorses and Pipefish. Now it seems more likely they're part of the sister group called Gasterosteiformes, which contains sticklebacks of all things. Turns out they also have bony armour instead of scales. And, of course, the stickles.

One last thing that's reminiscent of Seahorses. Sea Moths are often seen wandering around in pairs and they appear to be monogamous! It must look like an old couple taking a stroll in the park, stopping now and again to pick up half a sandwich off the floor to eat. Awwww... They don't look after their eggs at all but it's nice to know that they share a few breadcrumbs of love.


TexWisGirl said...

how funky! beautiful, but not. :)

Crunchy said...

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na SEA MOTH!

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: Yes! They're sort of pretty but incredibly awkward, too.

@Crunchy: Now THAT sounds interesting! He could descend on criminals and beat them into non-fatal submission with his big nose.

Crunchy said...

He's the hero the ocean both needs AND deserves!

Joseph JG said...

A bright new day has dawned!

Daniel Berke said...

Those are amazing. For some reason they make me thnk of little sea-chickens wandering around on the sea floor looking for food.

Joseph JG said...

I can totally see the sea-chicken point. They look so clumsy!