One of the most bizarre critters in the ocean must be also one of the cutest ones as well. It’s a creature many have never had the joy of encountering, and it’s not surprising to be honest; it’s the extremely well camouflaged Dragon Sea Moth.
Looking a bit like a bird walking on the bottom, they are part of the Pegasidae family together with four other species. Often referred to as the Pegasus Sea Moth, these lovable little guys get their name from the Greek mythological creature Pegasus, the winged horse, which is fairly suitable. Walking in pairs on the ocean seafloor they reach a size of about 10 centimeters long and almost equally as wide with it’s wing-like pectoral fins spread out. Often taking the same colour as the surrounding sand, varying from white to darker brown, they can shed their thick bony skins in one piece as to remove external parasitic organisms. As their mouths are toothless they feed with a long snout, up close it looks a bit like a bizarre sea aardvark, sucking up various arthropods living on the sea floor. The females often have shorter tails and snouts compared to the males, and the males flash a bright blue stripe on its “wings” when aggravated.
They are currently listed as a vulnerable species due to human impact. They are caught as bycatch, or purposely hunted for drying – to be used in traditional Chinese medicine. Bottom trawling and coastal development are other things that alter their habitat and makes the lives of these bottom-dwellers more perilous.
Since neither of these things happen around Malapascua, it is a habitat where the Sea Moths feel at home. As they live on the sandy bottom, take a small detour from the soft coral reefs and you might just se them hanging out with their longtime mate and possibly other bottom dwellers such as the Bentstick Pipefish. Be careful though, as there might just be another one hanging out just below you!