Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Leafy Seadragons get their name from their gossamer leaf-like appendages that protrude from all around their bodies. Popularly known as "leafies," they are quite similar in appearance to the mythical dragon with their long and very slender figures.
The leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques), also known as Glauert's seadragon, is a marine fish from the Syngnathidae family, which includes seadragons, pipefish, and seahorses. It is the only member of the genus Phycodurus. These seadragons range in color from brown to yellow with green to brown appendages.
Leafies live among rocky reefs, seaweed beds, seagrass meadows, kelp forests, and sand patches near weedy reefs. Because they are actually quite poor swimmers, they rely on their appendages to help blend in with their environment. This often makes them look like seaweed or kelp drifting through the water. Regionally, they are most commonly found along the southern and western coasts of Australia, making it an important marine emblem of the state of South Australia. Research shows that the leafy seadragons have a keen sense of direction, as they can float several hundred meters from their habitual locations, contrary to the initial belief that they have restricted ranges.
As aforementioned, leafies are not the best of swimmers; in fact, they are very slow-moving animals. As another form of defense, they have several sharp spines along the side of their bodies, which are believed to be used to defend themselves against attacking fish. They move by propelling their pectoral fin on the ridge of their neck and dorsal fin on their back closer to their tail. These fins are so thin that they are almost completely transparent!
Similar to their seahorse relatives, it is the male leafy seadragon who are impregnated and give birth. Around 100 to 250 eggs are laid by the female onto a special brood patch on the underside of the male's tail during mating. There, the eggs are fertilized. After four to six weeks of incubation, the juvenile seadragons are born. From birth, they are independent and become completely mature after 2 years. They can reach lengths of up to a foot long.
The leafy seadragon's diet consists primarily of smaller crustaceans, like mysid shrimp or sea lice. They eat by sucking up prey using their long pipe-like snout and small mouth, similar to a drinking straw.
Although leafies do not have any known natural predators, the leafy seadragon's IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list status is near threatened. Why? The beauty and rarity of the leafy seadragon make it popular demand. Divers often take the leafies to keep them as pets, which drastically decreased their numbers to the point that the Australian government placed complete protection on the species. Unfortunately, they are also often accidentally captured in fisheries targeting other forms of marine life. Furthermore, habitat pollution and destruction place substantial threats to their survival. Unless this species is tightly regulated and well-protected, these problems can lead to more serious effects.
There is still much more to learn about the leafy seadragon, so it is important to keep an eye out for the seadragon populations. Handling the creature is ill-advised because of its fragility and delicacy. Any sightings, including dead ones that washed up on shores, should be reported.