Happy Chinese New Year … Year of the (Sea) Dragon!
January 23 will bring a very significant celebration for those that live by the sea … it is the year of the water dragon which only occurs every six decades! To commemorate such an occasion, BCS will highlight two very remarkable and elaborate dragons found off the coast of south and east Australia. The leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) and the weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) are related to the more familiar seahorse and pipefish.
Although they may share the similar feature of a long snout with the seahorse and pipefish, the seadragon’s appendages coming from their solid, armor-like skin are what really set them apart. The leafy seadragon, often yellowish-green, is much more ornate than the reddish colored weedy seadragon. Although, the weedy seadragon does have some striking bright blue bands along its upper body. Unlike seahorses, seadragons do not use their tails to grasp onto the seaweeds or algae that they call home. In fact, the seadragons prefer to drift although they can use their transparent dorsal and pectoral fins to help navigate.
Similar to seahorses, male seadragons do the child bearing. The males have a brood patch under their tails (unlike the seahorse that have a pouch on their belly). The female will lay approximately 250 eggs on the patch at the time of fertilization and the eggs will hatch approximately 6 weeks later. The tiny juvenile seadragons look exactly like their parents but are immediately independent from them. This is their most vulnerable time of life when they may be eaten by various anemones, crabs, or hydroids. But if they avoid these predators and eat plenty of zooplankton the seadragon will grow to be either 14 inches (leafy) or 18 inches (weedy). The adults usually feast on sea lice or mysid shrimp. Of course, that is also if they manage to evade people collecting them for black market aquariums and staying away from areas where there is pollution and habitat loss.
Other interesting facts about seadragons are that their eyes move independently and they have no teeth or stomach!