Seadragons are called
leafy or weedy depending on the number and appearance of their
distinctly plant-like appendages and are in the family Syngnathidae,
sharing characteristics such as long tube-snouted mouths and bodies
enclosed in bony plates with their more common cousins the seahorses
(Hippocampinae) and pipefish (Syngnathine). The Leafy Sea
Dragon is one of the natural world’s undisputed masters of
camouflage, blending perfectly with the surrounding kelp beds.
The Leafy Seadragon, P. eques,
is a spectacularly camouflaged
fish found exclusively in macro-algae beds of southern Australia.
Leafy seadragons reach a length of approximately 35 cm and are
covered with jointed, armour-like plates instead of scales.
Unlike its seahorse cousins, the leafy seadragon has a laterally
flattened body and swims horizontally through the water column.
"Leafies" are best known for the incredible skin filaments that hang
off of their head, body and tail like so many blades of brown
seaweed. The body is protected by multiple long, sharp spines
that run from the dorsal surface and enclose the body. When in deep
water they are dark brown to burgundy red in colour whilst in
shallow water are more yellow or greenish.
The Leafy Seadragon is endemic to the temperate waters along the
southern coast of Australia and is commonly found in South
Australia, and in southern eastern Western Australia. The Leafy
Seadragon occurs sporadically in Victoria to the east of South
Australia and in southern western coast of Western Australia but is
rare north of Perth the capital city (Kuiter 2000). The Leafy
initially believed to be restricted to an area ranging from Kangaroo
Island in South Australia to Lancelim in West Australia (Hutchins
1986). Recent observations have expanded this range roughly 800
kilometres east of Kangaroo Island and 100 kilometres north of
Lancelim (Mackay 1998).
Distribution/Habitat: The Leafy Seadragon is endemic to the temperate waters along the
southern coast of Australia living in and among the kelp-covered
fringing rocky reefs. The
leafy seadragon is superbly camouflaged and is found among three
genera of brown algae, Macrocystis, Ecklonia, and Lessonia.
comprise mid-littoral kelp beds. Seadragons inhabit the mid-littoral zone, ranging in
depth from roughly 5 to 35 meters, but prefer shallower depths of 5
to 15 meters. Leafy Seadragon adults congregate in some
shallow bays in late winter to pair and mate.
Much of the information available about seadragons has come from
studies of preserved species or recorded observations by
recreational divers (Mackay 1998). Researchers in Southern
Australia have witnessed the seadragon "curling up" and presenting
the spines to attacking fish (Flaherty 1997) The mortality rates for
seadragons are believed to be relatively low for marine fish due to the amount of
eggs produced per season and the general lack of predators who rely
on them as a primary food source (Whitley & Allan 1958). When
adult the Leafy Seadragons feed on various reef crustaceans
including large shrimps and squat-lobsters (Kuiter 2000).
The distinct lack of swimming apparatus make the seadragon a
very poor swimmer but the leafy projections that hang from the head,
body and tail aid in balance and buoyancy.
Seadragons are thought to reproduce once per
year, usually in August and September, and produce approximately 250
eggs (Whitley and Allan).
Photos of Leafy
Seadragon - Taken at Rapid Bay South Australia by Graham Short