Leafy Sea Dragons - The Art of Camouflage

Leafy Seadragon

The leafy sea dragon, also known as Phycodurus eques, is a spectacular-looking fish that is found in the waters of southern Australia. It uses its specific leafy appearance for camouflage, as it resembles seaweed. Its near-perfect camouflage makes it hard to spot it in its natural habitat. Besides resembling seaweed, the leafy dragon can also change colors and its movement can be easily confused to that of a floating weed.

Leafy Seadragon
Enjoy some more Leafy Sea Dragon Pictures

While it is extremely hard to spot it in the wild, it is not easy to see it in zoos either as the leafy sea dragon is displayed in just a handful of zoos in the USA and Australia.

The leafy sea dragon and its "common" cousin, the weedy sea dragon, are long, slender fish with bony plates surrounding their bodies. They grow to less than 30cm and feed on plankton and smaller crustaceans.

Leafy sea dragons have an interesting way of moving, though they scarcely appear to move at all. The creature steers and makes the occasional turn by panning its tiny, translucent fins along the sides of the head. At a glance, you could mistake a leafy for a sponge or seaweed.

In many aspects, like reproduction, they resemble the behavior of their relatives, the sea horse. The eggs produced by the female are placed on the male sea dragon’s tail where they will stay for nine weeks until they hatch. To assist hatching the male will rub its tail against rocks. Leafy dragons are independent right after they are born, feeding on zooplanktons.

Endangered character of the leafy sea dragon

The leafy sea dragon is an endangered cousin of the sea horse native to the waters of Tasmania, Australia. So far no kind of fish has been classified as endangered in Australia - simply because nobody can be sure how many there are.

Leafy Seadragon

Officially they are near threatened, but that is partly because it is hard to assess their population. Practically, leafy sea dragons are exposed to many dangers.

Leafy sea dragons, ornate and beautiful denizens of the southern Australian coastline, are certainly at risk as worldwide, a booming trade in syngnathid (pipefish and seahorse) species for Chinese medicine, aphrodisiacs and the seafood and aquarium trades is devouring up to 10 million a year.

Australia's beautiful leafy sea dragon is especially vulnerable because it can fetch $12,000 or more on the global black market.

Being passive, the leafy is readily caught once a diver has spotted it although its superb camouflage makes this a difficult feat in itself.

Collecting it is illegal without a permit in both Western Australia and South Australia.

Apart from being traded illegally, the leafy sea dragon is affected by other issues as well. Sea dragons are dying off because the seagrasses in which they live have disappeared from the coastline.

Seagrass loss is largely blamed on nutrients entering the marine environment from stormwater and sewage outlets.

Besides its tourism potential, the leafy is important for another reason: it is pioneering the idea that imperiled fish should be protected in the same way as vulnerable marine animals such as whales, turtles and dugongs. See some more Leafy Sea Dragon Interesting Facts.