Common Dragonet

Common Dragonet
  • Scientific name: Callionymus lyra
  • Size:Up to 30cm in length, typically around 20cm.
  • UK minimum size: 20cm/8inches
  • UK shore caught record: 180 grams
  • IUCN status: NE (Not Evaluated)
  • Distribution: All around the UK and Europe.
  • Feeds on: Opportunistic scavenger which will feed on a wide range of small crustaceans and marine worms. They will alter their behaviour to feed on whichever food source is the most abundant.
  • Description: Fish with an elongated, scaleless eel-like body and flattened head. Eyes are located on the top of the head and the mouth is relatively large. In mature males the first dorsal fin is very high and triangular and is often described as looking like a ship’s sail. Females and immature males have much smaller fins. Mature males can also be brightly coloured with streaks of blue and yellow, whereas females are a duller brownish colour.

There are almost two hundred species of dragonet across the world, with many of these fish living in tropical waters and being extremely brightly coloured. The common dragonet is (as the name implies) the most common species of dragonet in UK waters and while the females are dull coloured the males become brightly coloured during the breeding season, with orange, yellow and streaks of blue making them an extremely striking looking fish. This species has a complex breeding pattern which sees the males and females swimming together in a coordinated manner prior to spawning, actions which are often referred to as a ‘mating dance’. Dragonet are fairly common all around the UK and are found throughout European waters and along the coast of Africa.

Female Dragonet
The duller colours of the female dragonet are evident in this picture.

Dragonets live over sandy or muddy seabeds, usually in water down to fifty metres or so, although they have occasionally been sighted in water as deep as several hundred metres. As they like to bury themselves into the sand they avoid rocky areas and shingle seabeds. The gills of this species are located high up on the body to facilitate spending long periods buried in the sediment. Being a small species the dragonet scavenges and searches for marine worms, molluscs, small shellfish and crustaceans. They spend most of their time avoiding becoming prey for other species and their ability to bury themselves almost completely under the sand is their main method of avoiding predators. With the UK shore caught record standing at just over six ounces (180 grams) the dragonet is a true mini species and is too small for most anglers using standard-sized hooks to catch. However, anglers taking part in LRF (Light Rock Fishing) around the UK will be likely to catch this species.

Smaller dragonet can sometimes be confused with gobies. In males, the very long first dorsal fin is a clear identifier of the dragonet, whereas in immature fish and females the protruding lower jaw of the dragonet is the easiest way to tell it apart from a goby. This species can be confused with the greater forkbeard, mostly because of the high, pointed dorsal fin. The main differences are that the dragonet is much more colourful and has no barbule on its lower jaw, while the barbule is present in the greater forkbeard.