Photo: A leafy sea dragon

Leafy sea dragons are brown to yellow in body color and are more ornately adorned than the reddish colored weedies.

Photograph by George Grall

Map

Map: Sea dragon range

Leafy and Weedy Sea Dragon Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Fish
Diet:
Carnivore
Size:
Leafy, up to 13.8 in (35 cm), Weedy, up to 18 in (46 cm)
Did you know?
The tail of a male leafy sea dragon will turn bright yellow when he is ready to mate.
Size relative to a tea cup:
Illustration: Leafy and weedy sea dragon compared with tea cup

Sea dragons are some of the most ornately camouflaged creatures on the planet. Adorned with gossamer, leaf-shaped appendages over their entire bodies, they are perfectly outfitted to blend in with the seaweed and kelp formations they live amongst.

Endemic to the waters off south and east Australia, leafy and weedy sea dragons are closely related to seahorses and pipefish. Leafies are generally brown to yellow in body color with spectacular olive-tinted appendages. Weedies have less flamboyant projections and are usually reddish in color with yellow spots.

Sea dragons have very long, thin snouts; slender trunks covered in bony rings; and thin tails which, unlike their seahorse cousins, cannot be used for gripping. They have small, transparent dorsal and pectoral fins that propel and steer them awkwardly through the water, but they seem quite content to tumble and drift in the current like seaweed. Leafies grow to a length of about 14 inches (35 centimeters), while the slightly larger weedies can grow up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) long.

As with sea horses, sea dragon males are responsible for childbearing. But instead of a pouch, like sea horses have, male sea dragons have a spongy brood patch on the underside of the tail where females deposit their bright-pink eggs during mating. The eggs are fertilized during the transfer from the female to the male. The males incubate the eggs and carry them to term, releasing miniature sea dragons into the water after about four to six weeks.

Sea dragons survive on tiny crustaceans such as mysids, or sea lice. It is not known if they are preyed upon by other animals. They are, however, frequently taken by divers seeking to keep them as pets. In fact, such takings shrank their numbers so critically by the early 1990s that the Australian government placed a complete protection on both species. Pollution and habitat loss have also hurt their numbers, and they are currently listed as near threatened.

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