Melbourne Odds and Ends

The trip to the Aquarium — the wonderful seadragons

Common seadragon, also called a weedy seadragon (Photo copright: Anne Lawson)
Common seadragon, also called a weedy seadragon (Photo copright: Anne Lawson, March 2013)
Leafy seadragon (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)
Leafy seadragon (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, March 2013)

As you know I have been fascinated with some creatures at the Melbourne Aquarium. Last time I wrote about the amazing seahorses. Now I want to tell you about my absolute favourites — the seadragons.

There are two species. My first photo is of the Common Seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). It is also called a weedy seadragon, which I think is a much better name. Common is far too common. So, unless I need to be official, I will call it a weedy seadragon, or maybe just weedie. It is the marine emblem of the State of Victoria.

The second photo is of the Leafy Seadragon (Phycodurus eques). What an amazing creature it is!

Both species are in the Syngnathidae family, which means they are related to seahorses. One of the differences between the two is that seahorses are vertical, whereas seadragons move more horizontally, more as you expect fish to move.

I love this description from Helen Scales, in her book Poseidon’s steed. 

“The two species of seadragons are the most outlandish syngnathids of all. These flouncy fish are like seahorses that were invited to a fancy dress party and made an extra special effort with their costumes. Leafy seadragons are naturally festooned in elaborate outfits of green ribbons and streamers….Weedy seadragons are slightly less outrageous with fewer dangling ornaments but still they put on an eye-catching display, with banana yellow freckles and electric blue racing stripes.” (p. 44)

Leafy seadragon, off to the fancy dress ball! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)
A leafy seadragon off to the fancy dress ball! (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, March 2013)

Both species of seadragons are endemic to the waters of southern Australia. They float gently in  sea grasses and kelp beds, beautifully camouflaged by their outrageous appendages. However, unlike the seahorses, their tails do not grip sea weed. They are poor swimmers, only having small fins, on the spine and a set behind their head. Seadragons are more likely to be found washed up on beaches after storms than seahorses, as they are buffeted by the surging waters.

Electric blue racing stripes. You can just see the fins on its back and behind its gills. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)
Electric blue racing stripes. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, March 2013)

It is the male that hatches the eggs. However, instead of the seahorses’ pouch, the female lays her eggs on the tail of the male. He then carries them until they hatch.  There is a must-watch video, at this link to the Australian Museum. It shows the elegant courtship of the weedies, and then the hatching of the eggs. As an added incentive, it is narrated by David Attenborough. The weedies are just so beautifully graceful! Check it out. (The images are much clearer than my photos!)

I am in love with these beautiful creatures! And I am very pleased that some of their habitats are protected by national parks and marine sanctuaries. We need the weedies and the leafies in our world.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, March 2013)

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