The leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) or Glauert’s seadragon is a marine fish related to the seahorses.
Leafy seadragons are found along the southern and western coasts of Australia.
They resides in areas with clear water, lower light conditions, and prominent vegetation. Such areas include seagrass meadows, seaweed beds, and rocky reefs.
The water must be between 12 and 23 °C (54 and 73 °F), and 5 to 50 meters (16.5 to 164 feet) deep, although they most often are found between 5 and 15 meters (16.5 and 49 feet) deep.
The lifespan of a leafy seadragon is up to 10 years.
While not large, they are slightly larger than most seahorses, growing to about 20 to 35 cm (8 to 14 in).
The lobes of skin that grow on the leafy seadragon provide camouflage, giving it the appearance of seaweed.
The leafy seadragon is able to maintain the illusion when swimming, appearing to move through the water like a piece of floating seaweed.
The frond-like appendages and thin body vary on adults from green to yellow-brown to light brown.
It can also change color to blend in, but this ability depends on the seadragon’s diet, age, location, and stress level.
They feed on plankton and tiny crustaceans, which they suck into the end of their long tube-like nose.
The leafy seadragon uses the fins along the side of its head to allow it to steer and turn. However, its outer skin is fairly rigid, limiting mobility.
Individual leafy seadragons have been observed remaining in one location for extended periods of time (up to 68 hours), but will sometimes move for lengthy periods. The tracking of one individual indicated it moved at up to 150 meters (490 ft) per hour.
Leafy seadragons live a largely solitary lifestyle.
The male sea dragon incubates the fertilized eggs joined under his tail. They stay there for about eight weeks until they hatch. The young can look after themselves as soon as they are born.
They are vulnerable when first born, and are slow swimmers, reducing their chance of escaping from a predator. Only about 5% of young survive.
Leafy seadragons are subject to many threats, both natural and man-made. They are caught by collectors, and used in alternative medicine.
The leafy seadragon is classified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Due to being protected by law, obtaining seadragons is often an expensive and difficult process as they must be from captive bred stock, and exporters must prove their broodstock were caught before collecting restrictions went into effect, or that they had a license to collect seadragon.
Aside from the legalities, leafy seadragons cost between $10,000 and $15,000 a piece, prohibitive to most collectors.
The leafy seadragon’s name is derived from its resemblance to the mythical dragon.
Popularly known as “leafies”, it is the marine emblem of the state of South Australia and a focus for local marine conservation.
It also features in the logos of the following South Australian associations — the Adelaide University Scuba Club Inc. and the Marine Life Society of South Australia Inc.
A number of aquaria in the United States have leafy seadragon research programs or displays.