- Common Name:
- Leafy Sea Dragon
- Scientific Name:
- Phycodurus eques
- Up to 13.8 inches
- IUCN Red List Status:
- Near threatened
- Current Population Trend:
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 sea dragons are closely related to seahorses and pipefish. Leafies are generally brown to yellow in body color with spectacular olive-tinted appendages.
Leafies are shaped to give themselves near-perfect camouflage in seaweed. But the leaf-like structures are not used for swimming. To move, this species uses two fins—one pectoral and one dorsal—that are so thin they are almost transparent.
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.
Threats to Survival
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 the species. Pollution and habitat loss have also hurt their numbers, and they are currently listed as near threatened.