What Are Sea Moths And Are They Only Found In South China?

When a sea moth is caught in south China it is so highly revered that it is dried and used in magic amulets. Learn why!

Pegasiformes or sea moths have the large pectoral fins of the flying gurnards, the armored covering of the pipe fish and the skull structure of the sea robins. They have leafy gills and even though little is known about their internal anatomy, it is known that their armored skin covering is formed by extremely strong bony plates. This is one of the most striking features of the sea moths. On the trunk of the sea moth the bony plates are fused together and will not move. But the bony plate on the tail shaft is moveable. These fish have a snout that is elongated with a small mouth opening that has no teeth and is located on the underside of the body.

The sea moths gill coverings are formed from a large bony plate. They have narrow gill openings that lie in front of the base on the pectoral fin. The pectoral fins on this amazing fish are horizontal and have between ten and eleven unbranching rays. These rays appear to be spines at the base but become softer at the ends. The sea moth has a single dorsal fin that is opposite the anal fin. The pelvic fins on this fish can be found just behind the pectoral fins. They have a small caudal fin that in most cases displays eight rays. The body is broad in the front, tapering toward the rear. Interestingly, the tail of the sea moth is longer than the entire body. Depending on the species of this fish it will have either eight, eleven or twelve bony rings. The sea moth is one of the Gasterosteiformes that does not have a swim bladder.

This fish is very rarely caught but considering that there is only one family called Pegasidae with one genus called Pegasus and a few species, this is no surprise. They can usually be found along the coast lines in their preferred habitat which are the seaweed fields. From time to time a few may be discovered along sandy bottoms. Although none have been found in the Atlantic Ocean most of the species that have been studied occur in the Indo-Pacific area from the eastern coast of Africa to Hawaii and very few of this elusive fish are found in museum collections. The sea moth, with their parachute like pectoral fins are known to make short leaps out of the water creating an amazing sight for the few who have observed this behavior. Their diet consists mostly of small fishes and crustaceans that inhabit the seaweed fields. When a sea moth is caught in China it is so highly revered that it is dried and used in magic amulets by the locals.

Of this family of fish the longest sea moth that has been found was discovered is the Indo Australian sea moth. This fish is greenish brown in color with black spots covering its body. This species of sea moth was discovered both in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. An even rarer species of this fish, the Pegasus Draconis, has two grooves on the rear of its head. Another rare species that has been discovered on along the coast of China, Java and Ceylon, is the Pegasus laternarius which has eleven caudal rings. The mating habits of this small family of little fishes has been rarely observed or studied and thus still remains unknown. It is assumed the mating habits are similar to those of other Gasterosteiformes.

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