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What Is a Leafy Sea Dragon?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 26 October 2016
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A leafy sea dragon is a type of fish that is found along certain areas of the coast of Australia. The fish have a distinctive appearance, resembling a dragon, and with a covering of small lobes that look like seaweed. A leafy sea dragon usually inhabits areas of sea grass and sand because this provides more protection than open water. Like seahorses, which are similar in appearance, sea dragons carry the eggs of their young until they hatch. The fish are currently listed as “Near Threatened” due to a variety of factors including being highly sought after by collectors and because of environmental pollution.

This fish species got its name from its dragon-like appearance and covering of small lobes which provide camouflage. These lobes are especially effective at helping it to blend in against a background of seaweed. Sea dragons are similar in appearance to sea horses, but often grow to slightly larger sizes. Leafy sea dragons, for example, can grow to a maximum of 10 inches (24 cm). Some sea dragons are able to change color to suit the environment, although not all specimens have this ability.

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Leafy sea dragons are found along the west and south coasts of Australia. A leafy sea dragon inhabits a relatively small area of water, although the fish have been known to range over several hundred feet before returning to the original spot. The dragons usually live in regions of sand and sea flora because this provides the best camouflage from potential predators. These areas also provide plenty of plankton and crustaceans which make up much of the dragon’s diet.

When reproducing, a leafy sea dragon carries its eggs until they hatch. The female releases anywhere up to 300 eggs onto the male dragon’s tail, but only a small percentage of these ever reach maturity. It typically takes a sea dragon about two years to become fully mature, but it is independent from the moment it leaves the mother’s body. The fish initially feed on small plankton until they are able to eat small crustaceans.

Although not currently thought to be in danger of extinction, the leafy sea dragon is nonetheless rated “Near Threatened.” Collectors of tropical fish find sea dragons very attractive because of their unique and distinctive appearance. Certain types of alternative health practitioners also utilize the fish for various medicinal purposes. These threats, combined with environmental pollution and natural predators, have forced the Australian government to officially protect the species.

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bythewell
Post 3

@pastanaga - It sounds like they are probably very difficult to keep in home aquariums though. Reef species are already out of the skill level of the average person keeping fish and even successful reef tank enthusiasts often have to spend thousands of dollars to maintain more durable species.

I think it would be wonderful for the leafy seadragon to become more well established among public aquariums but I'd hate to think that it would become popular and widely available among amateurs, because most of them couldn't keep them properly.

pastanaga
Post 2

@umbra21 - Well, it is completely illegal now to collect them from the wild as far as I know, but it's actually really difficult to keep them in captivity. There are large aquariums that have been successful but I'm not sure if they have been able to get them to breed successfully.

Once they manage to figure out how to get them to breed in captivity, then the problem is basically solved, because like all fish they produce hundreds of eggs at a time and the limiting factor is that the young don't have a high survival rate in the wild.

If they are raised in captivity then that survival rate (in theory) would go up tremendously and they wouldn't be a rare creature in aquariums.

umbra21
Post 1

It makes me so angry when a species is threatened because of people wanting to collect specimens. Sea dragons are gorgeous and unique and I can understand the impulse to want them in an aquarium or a museum, but not at the expense of the species as a whole.

It makes me think of those so-called naturalists back when the world was still being colonized who would shoot dozens of rare birds in an afternoon in full knowledge that they might be killing the last of their kind.

Aside from the valid scientific and economic reasons not to do this, it really feels like the most apt metaphor is the man who killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. Common sense is completely overruled by greed and arrogance.

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