Sea Creature Feature of The Week: Leafy Seadragon

This plant-like sea creature is known as the leafy seadragon. Similar in appearance to a seahorse, this species is more related to a pipefish. One characteristic that deciphers the leafy seadragon from a seahorse is that the seadragon cannot curl its tail. The leafy seadragon finds itself in the order Syngnathifores with pipefishes and other relatives and the family Syngnathidae with pipefishes and seahorses.

The leafy seadragon is found along Australia’s southern coast in seagrass beds and rocky reefs. The seadragon uses its leaf-like appearance to camouflage itself to avoid predation. This species can grow up to one foot long, which is quite huge compared to its relatives. In order to feed, the seadragon’s mouth is tubelike and acts like a straw, gulping down prey as it approaches. Males, like seahorses, carry the fertilized eggs. However, they carry the eggs on the underside of their tail rather than in a pouch like a seahorse. Females can transfer up to 300 eggs to the male.

The IUCN Red List assessed the leafy seadragon or Phycodurus eques in 2016 and listed the species as least concern. Though there isn’t a major concern of the species going extinct, the leafy seadragon’s population trend is decreasing. The seadragon is facing threats such as fishing and harvesting, pollution from wastewater and agricultural waste, and residential and commercial development. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been sent captive-bred hatchlings for education and research programs to further conservation efforts.

The leafy seadragon is the official marine emblem of the state of South Australia, according to the Aquarium of the Pacific.