information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Common dragonet (Callionymus lyra)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.



Callionymus lyra is the largest (up to 30 cm) and most common dragonet in UK waters. Small specimens could be confused with gobies. However, the broader and triangular head distinguishes it, together with a longer snout and jutting lower jaw. Mature males have elongate dorsal and caudal fin rays, the second dorsal being yellowish with bright blue longitudinal stripes and bright blue marks on the head and body. Females and immature males are brown and lighter ventrally with a series of 6 brown blotches along the sides. Three symmetrical brown saddles are present along the back with indistinct darker stripes lengthwise on the second dorsal fin. Females are usually up to 20 cm long and males up to 30 cm. This species can blend perfectly with coarse sand or gravel substrata. The fins are often folded down when the fish is on the sea bed.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Widespread all along the coasts of Britain and Ireland.

Global distribution

East Atlantic, Southern Iceland, Central Norway south to Mauritania including the Northern Mediterannean, western Black Sea, Azores, Madeira and Canaries, Gibralter and Algeria.


Demersal, found in the sublittoral to depths of 430 m. More usually at depths of 5 to 50 m. Mainly a temperate species in waters 16-20 °C. Callionymus lyra lives on the sea bed, often partially buried in sand or shell gravel.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Flattened body without scales.
  • Triangular head when viewed from above.
  • Eyes on top of head.
  • Two dorsal fins, the first one triangular, tall and sail-like.
  • Colourful males with long first ray in first dorsal fin.
  • Sharp spines on pre-operculum.
  • Second dorsal and anal fin membrane with bright blue horizontal lines.
  • Usually 9 rays in second dorsal fin.

Additional information

Dragonets are small fish of shallow inshore waters. They are demersal and often found partially buried in sand or shell gravel. Adaptations to this mode of life include the dorsally situated gill opening and the flattened body shape. The diet of Callionymus lyra consists mainly of polychaete worms, amphipod crustaceans and molluscs, especially cockles.

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

Search on:


  1. Dipper, F., 2001. British sea fishes (2nd edn). Teddington: Underwater World Publications Ltd.

  2. Gibson, R., Hextall, B. & Rogers, A., 2001. Photographic guide to the sea and seashore life of Britain and north-west Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  3. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E. ed., 1999. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. CD-ROM Edition. Ulster Museum and The Marine Conservation Society, Belfast and Ross-on-Wye., Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication no. 280.]

  4. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 1999. Marine Environment Resource Mapping And Information Database (MERMAID): Marine Nature Conservation Review Survey Database. [on-line]

  5. National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas website. Available from:  Accessed 01 April 2017

  6. Naylor, P., 2000. Marine Animals of the South West. Plymouth: Sound Diving Publications

  7. Wheeler, A., 1969. The fishes of the British Isles and north-west Europe. London: Macmillan.

  8. Whitehead, P.J.P., Bauchot, M.-L., Hureau, J.-C., Nielson, J. & Tortonese, E. 1986. Fishes of the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Vol. I, II & III. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).


This review can be cited as:

Oakley, J.A. 2008. Callionymus lyra Common dragonet. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 22-09-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 17/04/2008