Sea dragons - Masters of Disguise
Masters of mimicry, these extraordinary creatures have earned their reputation as the Marcel Marceau of the sea. Sea dragons are decorated by seaweed like appendages that help them to blend in with their leafy environment.
As well as looking like seaweed, sea dragons also move in a similar swaying motion as seaweed would if caught in a current. This nifty trick allows the Sea dragon to sneak up on prey and also to appear virtually invisible to predators. This type of camouflage is called ‘mimicry’.
The Weedy sea dragon complements its bizarre appearance with bright colouring, comprising of an orange-red background colour, bright blue stripes, and many white spots and yellow markings. Leafy sea dragons aren’t quite as ostentatious with its fashion, with green to yellow-brown colouring and pale bands on its body.
Unlike their seahorse cousins, sea dragons do not have curly grasping tails but long straight tails.
The sea dragons’ long snouts are perfectly suited for sucking up plankton, larval fishes and small shrimp-like crustaceans, called mysids. Sea dragons are not strong swimmers having only small fins on either side of their heads and a long shimmering dorsal fin to propel them through the water. So instead of chasing after their dinner they prefer to drift through the water camouflaged as a piece of seaweed until their prey swim by and then they quickly suck it out of the water.
Both the Weedy and Leafy sea dragon exclusively call the south coast of Australia home. Leafy sea dragons can be found between Lancelin in Western Australia and Wilsons Promontory in Victoria while Weedy sea dragons are a little less fussy, being found all along the south coast as well as southern New South Wales and Tasmania. The people of Victoria feel so privileged to have such a remarkable creature living in their waters that they named the Weedy seadragon their marine state emblem.
Seadragons like the safety and cover of shallow protected reefs, seaweed beds, seagrass meadows and structures colonised by seaweed such as pier pylons. They prefer shallow waters and are usually found frolicking at a depth of around 10 metres but have been known to venture as deep as 50 metres.
Like all members of the Pipe Fish family, sea dragons reverse parenting roles. The female lays her eggs and the male looks after them, keeping them safely tucked away under his tail. They stay there for two months until they hatch. The clever sea dragons stagger the hatching process to that the baby sea dragons don’t have to compete for food. The juveniles then go through a pretty big growth spurt, attaining a size of around 70 millimetres in just three weeks!
Judging a book by its cover
You can tell a lot about sea dragons by their colouring. Their colour can change depending on age, diet, location, depth, or stress.
Sea dragon Fasct Facts:
- Common Name: Weedy sea dragon
- Scientific Name: Phyllopteryx taeniolatus
- Habitat: Shallow weedy areas in Port Phillip Bay and large open estuaries
- Diet: Mysid shrimp and plankton
- Size: Up to 45cm
- Range: Southern Australian waters from Sydney south around to Western Australia
- Threats: Habitat loss
- Conservation Status: Near threatened