The leafy seadragon is a form of marine fish belonging to the ‘Syngnathidae’ family. It is the sole member of the ‘Phycodurus’ genus. These fishes are mostly found in the coastal waters of south-western Australia. They derive their name from the leafy appendages that are spread all over their body. These fishes are also known as Glauert’s seadragon.
Leafy Seadragon Scientific Classification
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Length: Leafy seadragons are larger in size than most of the other seahorses, growing to a length of about 24 to 34 cm. Fins: They have leaf-like fins that spread throughout the length of their body. The pectoral fins emerge from the neck and a single dorsal fin is located at the back of the seadragon. Color:These fishes are normally yellowish-green to brown in color. However, their color may vary with age, location, or diet. These fishes are also capable of changing their color to camouflage themselves.
Eyes: The eyes are placed atop the elongated snout. Spines: There are several spines on the sides of the leafy seadragon’s body which are used for defense.
These fishes move very slowly and heavily rely on camouflage for their survival. Their bodies seem to smoothly glide through aquatic plants like kelp and seaweed. They are not very compatible with other fishes but tend to get along well with other Syngathiformes like pipefishes and sea horses. Leafy seadragons mostly prefer to live in isolation.
These fishes use their dorsal and pectoral fins to steer and move. The outer skin of Leafy seadragons is very rigid, which limit flexibility and mobility. They are also known to stay in one spot for extended lengths of time. However, when they move they can move at high speeds, almost 150 meters per hour.
Leafy seadragons use their small mouth and long snout to suck up their prey. Leafy Seadragons mostly feed on mysid shrimps, penaeid shrimps, zooplanktons, larval fish, sea lice and some other small crustaceans like amphipods.
These fishes normally occur on the western and southern coasts of Australia.
Leafy seadragons mostly reside on the rocky reefs, seagrass meadows, sand patches and seaweed beds of Australian waters.
Young leafy seadragons are hunted by bigger crustaceans, fishes and sea anemones. The adult ones do not have any natural predators due to their highly developed adaptive skills.
Leafy seadragons have developed some special characteristics that enable them to defend themselves against their predators as well as adapt well to their surroundings. Here are a few of their adaptive features.
- Leafy seadragons have got protrusions all over their body which they use for camouflage. The small fins of these fishes are nearly transparent and when the leafy seadragons sway them from side to side to move around, their fins give them the appearance of a floating seaweed.
- They can change their color to blend with their environment.
- They also have numerous sharp spines along the sides of their bodies which they use to defend themselves against attacking predators.
- The eyes of leafy seadragons are capable of moving independently; this gives them the ability to look at two completely different directions at the same time.
The breeding season for leafy seadragons last from the months of August to March.
Leafy seadragons reach sexual maturity when they are about 28 months old. The interesting thing about Leafy Seadragons is that the males get pregnant with the babies and give birth to the young ones. The males hatch two clutches of eggs in a year out of which only 5% will survive. While mating, the female produces about 250 pink-colored eggs which she then deposits on to the tail of the male seadragon through a long tube. The eggs remain attached to the brood patch which consists of blood-filled tissues. Each of these tissues holds one egg, supplying them with oxygen and necessary fertilizing ingredients. Over a few weeks, the eggs develop a purple or orange coloration. The eggs are incubated for about eight to nine weeks after which the infants start to emerge. In a process which takes about 24 to 48 hours, the males pump their tail to release the newborns.
Infant leafy seadragons are about 20 millimeters long at birth. After they are born, he young ones are completely independent. For the first 2 or 3 days after birth, they are sustained by yolk sacs. They soon develop to feed on small zooplanktons until they become large enough to catch mysid shrimps. The young ones are far more delicate that the adult leafy seadragons and have a much different coloration.
Leafy seadragons are known to grow up to an age of two years in the wild. However, their exact life span is not known.
Leafy Seadragon as Pets
Although there have been some instances in the past when a leafy seadragon has been petted, keeping a leafy seadragon as a pet is a challenging task. This is because they are very delicate to handle and it is very hard to keep them alive while they are outside their natural habitat. Changes in water pressure can kill them as well as unavailability of a constant source of proper food. These fishes are very picky about the food they eat and they will only accept frozen or live crustaceans. It is also extremely difficult to breed them successfully under captive conditions. Keeping them with other fishes does not suit them as well as they like to be solitary. In fact, there are very strict laws in Australia which protect these fishes. So even if you have a specimen of this fish, you will need to prove that your pet seadragon originate from a captive brood, which is extremely difficult to do.
Leafy seadragons are classified as a ‘Near Threatened’ species by the IUCN.
Here are some interesting facts about these fishes:
- Leafy seadragons are popularly known as “leafies”.
- These seadragons are the marine emblem of South Australia.
- These seadragons are superbly camouflaged and well adapted to their natural environments.
- Leafy seadragons, like other Syngathiformes, have got no stomachs. For this reason, they have to consume food constantly to avoid starvation.
- Leafy seadragons are the only animals in the entire world that use their movement for hiding.
- These seadragons are classified as near threatened even though they have no natural predators.
Here are some pictures depicting this beautiful fish.