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Leafy seadragon

Phycodurus eques

Description: The Syngnathidae family includes seadragons, seahorses and pipefish. Leafy seadragons are named for their leaf-like appendages that hang from their head, body and tail, resembling brown seaweed. Leafies are extremely well-camouflaged fish. Long, sharp spines running from the dorsal surface and enclosing the scaleless body, help protect these delicate, fragile animals. Most adults are green to yellowish-brown with narrow stripes across the body. Their normal coloration can change depending on diet, location, age or stress.

Size: Leafy seadragons can reach lengths of 14 to 18 inches (36-46 cm).

Behavior: Leafies are either solitary or in pairs. They appear to float slowly and aimlessly among the underwater vegetation, often moving back and forth like pieces of kelp being moved by gentle currents. Sometimes only the fluttering of these tiny translucent fins or the moving of an independently swiveling eye, reveals its presence. Camouflage is their main defense.

Diet: Seadragons have no teeth or stomach but are ferocious predators of mysid shrimp and will also eat other small crustaceans, plankton and larval fish. Food is sucked into the long, pipe-like snout and swallowed whole.

Reproduction: Male seadragons are responsible for childbearing. Three hundred or more eggs are fertilized during the transfer from the female to the male. The male incubates the eggs in a brood
patch on the underside of his tail and carries them to term, releasing miniature seadragons into the water after about six to eight weeks.

Habitat/range: Known as “Australian seahorses” in Australia, they inhabit areas close to shore containing seagrass where the calm, cold water is approximately 50-54° F (10-12° C). They are endemic to the waters off south and west Australia.

Status: The destruction of habitat is one of the biggest threats to natural populations. Storms can have devastating effects on these small animals, washing them up on beaches. In 1991, the Department of Fisheries of Western Australia, declared it a protected species. The Leafy seadragon is the official marine emblem of the state of South Australia. Listed as Near Threatened (NT) IUCN Red List.