Sculptured Seamoth, Pegasus lancifer Kaup 1861

Other Names: Dragonfish, Sculptured Dragonfish, Sculptured Dragon-fish, Sea Moth, Seamoth

A male Sculptured Seamoth, Pegasus lancifer, at St Leonards Jetty, Port Phillip - note the greenish margin and small ornamental patch on the rear of the pectoral fin. Source: Julian Finn / Museum Victoria. License: CC by Attribution


Bizarre-looking armoured fishes with a long slender rostum overhanging a tiny mouth, a long slender flexible tail tipped with a tiny caudal fin and very large fan-like pectoral fins. Seamoths crawl over the seafloor on their finger-like pelvic fins searching for prey.

The Sculptured Seamoth is well-camouflaged, and individuals are usually sandy colored often with darker markings along the sides to match their surroundings. Males have a greenish margin on the pectoral fins with a small patterned patch on the rear of the fin used for display.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2019, Pegasus lancifer in Fishes of Australia, accessed 21 Apr 2024,

Sculptured Seamoth, Pegasus lancifer Kaup 1861

More Info


Endemic to temperate waters of southern Australia, between southern New South Wales (about Merimbula) to Rottnest Island, Western Australia, including Tasmania.

Sculptured Seamoths live mostly on sandy or muddy bottoms, in or near seagrass, from the intertidal shallows to 55 m. They are more active at night, and may remain partly buried in sand during the day.


Dorsal fin 5; Anal fin 5; Caudal fin 8-9; Pectoral fin 14-19; Pelvic fin I, 3; Tail rings 14, anterior 7 hinged, last 7 fused.

Body depressed, maximum width 24–29% SL, females broader than males; head length 21–28% SL; snout square in cross-section with 4 toothed ridges, longer in males than in females; eye moderately large, with a pronounced anterodorsal orbital ridges; plates on dorsal surface with prominent ridges arranged in a star pattern; small posteriorly directed spines below eye and on tail plates.

Dorsal fin short-based, positioned above short-based anal fin; pectoral fins large, wing-like, orientated horizontally, no rays enlarged; front of pectoral-fin base with anteriorly directed spines; pelvic fins long and narrow, abdominal, originating midventrally immediately before anus; caudal fin truncate, fan-shaped.


To 12 cm.


Sandy grey to brown above, paler below; fins with small dark spots; pectoral fin of breeding males with dark greenish lateral margin, and black and white spot often associated with orange posteriorly.


Often use their finger-like pelvic fins to crawl over the bottom in search of small crustaceans, worms and molluscs which are sucked from their burrows.


The sexes are separate, and fertilisation is external. Sculptured Seamoths are pelagic spawners and pairs have been seen swimming several metres off the bottom to release their eggs and sperm.

The larvae are pelagic and small larvae have bodies enclosed in a dermal sac, large, fan-shaped horizontally orientated pectoral fins, a dorsoventrally compressed body and a laterally compressed tail.


Although Sculptured Seamoths may be taken as by-catch in commercial prawn fisheries in Spencer Gulf, South Australia, these fisheries occur in a limited part of the distribution range of this species. There is no known trade for this species in the traditional Chinese medicine industry.


  • IUCN Red List : Least Concern


Sculptured Seamoths can rapidly change their colours to match their surroundings, and occsionally burrow into the substrate to escape predators. Males display their patterened pectoral fins to females during the breeding season.

Similar Species

Sculptured Seamoths can be distinguished from other species in the family in Australia by the greater number of pectoral-fin rays (16-19 versus 10-12).


The specific name lancifer is from the Latin lancea, meaning a light spear or lance.

Species Citation

Pegasus lancifer Kaup 1861, Arch. Naturg. 27(1): 116. Type locality: Southern Australia or Tasmania.


Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2019


Australian Faunal Directory

Sculptured Seamoth, Pegasus lancifer Kaup 1861


Edgar, G.J. 1997. Australian Marine Life. Reed Books, Kew, Victoria. 544 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 1985. The remarkable seamoths. Scuba Diver 3: 16-18.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993 Coastal fishes of south-eastern Australia. Crawford House Press, Bathurst. 437 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 2009 Seahorses and their relatives. Aquatic Photographics, SEaford, Australia, 333 pp.

Neira F.J., Miskiewicz A.G. & Trnski T. (1998) Larvae of temperate Australian fishes: laboratory guide for larval fish identification. University of Western Australia press, Nedlands, Western Australia.

Orr J.W. & Pietsch T.W. (1994) Pipefishes and their allies. In Paxton J.R. & Eschmeyer W.N. (eds.) Encyclopedia of Fishes. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.

Palsson W.A. & Pietsch T.W. (1989) Revision of the acanthopterygian fish family Pegasidae (Order Gasterosteiformes). Indo-Pacific Fishes 18: 1-38.

Pietsch T.W. (1978) Evolutionary relationships of the seamoths (Teleostei : Pegasidae) with a classification of gasterosteiform families. Copeia 1978(3): 517-529 figs 1-15.

Pietsch, T.W. 2008. Family Pegaside: Sea Moths, Sea Dragons, Dragonfishes. p. 485, In Gomon, M.F., D.J. Bray & R.H. Kuiter. The fishes of Australia's southern coast. Reed New Holland, Chatswood, Australia and Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, 928 pp.

Pollom, R. 2016. Pegasus lancifer (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T16474A115133751. Downloaded on 03 July 2019.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37309003

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:0-56 m

Habitat:Sandy, muddy bottoms

Max Size:12 cm


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CAAB distribution map