Sea Dragons

- the real ones

With all those "leafy" appendages hanging off, it's easy to imagine how this Leafy Sea Dragon would blend in so perfectly in a kelp bed.  Sometimes even experienced dive photographers may not notice the animal even at arm's length, until it moves. Sea Dragons are arguably the most spectacular and mysterious of all ocean fish. Though close relatives of sea horses, sea dragons have larger bodies and leaf-like appendages which enable them to hide among floating seaweed or kelp beds. Sea dragons feed on larval fishes and amphipods, such as and small shrimp-like crustaceans called mysids ("sea lice"), sucking up their prey in their small mouths. Many of these amphipods feed on the red algae that thrives in the shade of the kelp forests where the sea dragons live.

 

 

Leafy sea dragons are ready to mate at an age of one year; at two years they are full size. In captivity, leafies may live to ten years or more.  According to an article by Peter DeMarco of the Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) aquariums pay up to 1,500 U.S. dollars each, which literally makes sea dragons worth more than their weight in gold! Additionally, their voracious appetite for about 100 mysid shrimp per day can get expensive. Each commercially purchased live mysid can cost in the range of 65-85 cents (U.S.) each, according to aquarists at the (Long Beach, California) Aquarium of the Pacific. This expense has prompted a newly initiated mysid-culturing program at the aquarium.

Leafy sea dragon at Birch Aquarium, San Diego, CA. The leafy can grow to a length of up to 13.8 in (35 cm), while the weedy is even bigger and can reach up to 18 in (46 cm) in length. When the males are ready to mate, their leafy tails will turn bright yellow.


Photo #5 by Nathan Rupert

Photo Credit: Kate Hayes via flickr