Sea Dragons are arguably the most spectacular and mysterious of all ocean fish. Though close relatives of sea horses, sea dragons have larger bodies and leaf-like appendages which enable them to hide among floating seaweed or kelp beds. Sea dragons feed on larval fishes and amphipods, such as and small shrimp-like crustaceans called mysids ("sea lice"), sucking up their prey in their small mouths. Many of these amphipods feed on the red algae that thrives in the shade of the kelp forests where the sea dragons live.
As with their smaller common seahorse (and pipefish) cousins, the male sea dragon carries and incubates the eggs until they hatch. During mating the female deposits up to 250 eggs onto the "brood patch" on the underside of the male's tail. After about eight weeks, the brood hatches, but in nature only about 5 per cent of sea dragons survive to maturity (two years). A fully grown Leafy Sea Dragon grows to about 18 inches (45 cm).
Leafy Sea Dragons are very interesting to watch-- the leafy appendages are not used for movement. The body of a sea dragon scarcely appears to move at all. Steering and turning is through movement of tiny, translucent fins along the sides of the head (pectoral fins, visible above) and propulsion derives from the dorsal fins (along the spine). Their movement is as though an invisible hand were helping, causing them to glide and tumble in peculiar but graceful patterns in slow-motion. This movement appears to mimic the swaying movements of the seaweed and kelp. Only close observation reveals movement of an eye or tiny fins.
Most sources of information about sea dragons say they are found in the ocean waters of southern Western Australia, South Australia and further east along the coastline of Victoria province, Australia. Sea dragons are protected under Australian law, and their export is strictly regulated. A 1996 assessment by the Australian government's Department of Environmental Heritage indicates "It [the Leafy Sea Dragon] is now completely protected in South Australia because demand for aquarium specimens threatened the species with extinction." Currently the specific law which protects them is called the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. For a February 2002 updated overview of the leafy sea dragon, see this page from the Department of Environmental Heritage site.
The top image, the four images below on the left and on the bottom row are digital still camera images. The wallpaper images represented below are from video captures. Below these, three of the digital movies are 320 x 240 versions from the video, 10 frames/second with titles and sound. The fourth is 352 x 240 in size, 3.5 megabytes, with music, showing three camera views of a Leafy Sea Dragon. The fifth clip is most recent, a full 11.7 megabytes, with 27 seconds of 352 x 240 MPEG-1 video of Leafy Sea Dragons and music.
Identification: Phycodurus eques
Sluggestion: save the video clips as a file on your computer (in Windows right-click on your mouse, select "save target as...") to enable multiple playbacks! Looking for a player? Try Windows Media Player (for Mac too)
|Australia's National Dragon Search website-- packed with information, including "Dragon's Lair" newsletter, videos of sea dragons, and photos.|
|Project Seahorse is "a group committed to conserving seahorse populations while recognizing the needs of people who depend on them"|
|Western Australia Department of Fisheries "Endangered Sea Dragon"|
|Hear aquarist Kristy Forsgren from the Aquarium of the Pacific talk about sea dragons, hosted by Petfishtalk.com|
|Leafy sea dragon entry from Marinebio.org|
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