The mythical sea dragon lives! Alas, rather than a reptilian terror, sea dragons are a small group in the seahorse family. Though they aren’t the cryptozoological beasts of lore, these dragons are a group of immensely graceful and beautiful animals. Read on to learn about the sea dragon.
Description of the Sea Dragon
Sea dragons are similar in shape to a seahorse, with a long snout, tail, and unique fin placement. Unlike seahorses, these lovely creatures have lobes or leaf-like protuberances sprouting from their bodies.
They have a rather bulky body appearance, and one species has very intricate lobes that resemble seaweed. Sea dragons do not have prehensile tails like their seahorse cousins, and thus cannot grip objects in the environment around them with their tails.
Interesting Facts About the Sea Dragon
Sea dragons are a wondrous, if a little unusual, sight to behold. Just when we thought seahorses couldn’t get any stranger, dragons swam into the picture! These animals have a number of traits that separate them from other fish.
- New Sea dragons – One species of these sea creatures was recently discovered, first being described in 2015. The first video of a live specimen occurred in 2017. The “new” species, the ruby sea dragon, is similar to the other species in appearance. The main distinguishing characteristic is its bright red coloration, hence the name “ruby.”
- Three Species – There are just three known species of sea dragons, the leafy sea dragon, the weedy, or common, sea dragon, and the ruby sea dragon. All three species are found exclusively off the coast of Southern Australia.
- Closest Living Relatives – Sea dragons are closely related to pipefish, another animal in the seahorse family. At first glance, one may think a pipefish, with its long, slender body, is simply a seahorse that got stretched into a straight line from nose to tail.
- Family Matters – Sea dragons are in the taxonomic family of Sygnathidae, which makes up all seahorses, sea dragons, pipehorses, and pipefish. Sygnathidae translates roughly to “fused jaws,” which is a unique trait shared by all of these fish. This name describes the Sygnathidae family’s unique mouth shape, which resembles that of a horse’s muzzle.
Habitat of the Sea Dragon
Sea dragons can be found in shallow coastal waters, where they seem to prefer sea grasses, rocky kelp forests, and seaweed beds. Some of them appear to range across a “territory,” and return to the same location periodically.
Distribution of the Sea Dragon
Sea dragons can be found only across the southern coast of Australia. They appear to be found from Perth, in Western Australia, to New South Whales. Some species have also been found off the coast of Tasmania.
Diet of the Sea Dragon
Sea dragons eat very small crustaceans, larvae of fish, mysid shrimp, and zooplankton. They feed by sucking the small plankton into their mouths, and they actively hunt for prey, rather than waiting for it to drift past them.
Sea Dragon and Human Interaction
While the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species considers most sea dragon species “Least Concern,” these fish are still threatened by human activities.
Like most aquatic animals (and plants, and land animals for that matter), man-made threats are the major concern for long-term survival. Habitat loss due to pollution and human activities are the greatest threat to all sea life.
Sea dragons are not domesticated in any way. Animals in aquariums have difficulties reproducing, and only a select few aquariums have been able to breed and successfully produce offspring from any species of sea dragon.
Does the Sea Dragon Make a Good Pet
No, this marine creature would not make a good pet. They are incredibly difficult to care for, and require a very specific diet, salinity, light, and habitat to survive.
Sea Dragon Care
Sea dragon care has been achieved in a handful of aquariums across the world. The most successful aquariums have been able to breed them, and produce live young. Aquariums must replicate this creature’s natural environment in salinity (amount of salt in the water), water temperature, and water flow to achieve successful breeding.
Behavior of the Sea Dragon
This is a very slow species of fish adapted for camouflaging in with their surroundings. They may travel in pairs, or on their own, and hunt for plankton and other tiny prey species. When sea dragons mate, the males court receptive females, and establish pairs.
Reproduction of the Sea Dragon
Sea dragons reproduce in a similar fashion to seahorses, with the males carrying the eggs! Unlike seahorses, their dragon counterparts have no pouch. Instead, the male carries his young on a brood patch under his tail. This brood patch supplies the eggs with oxygen. The male will carry the eggs for nine weeks, and the newly hatched baby sea dragons are fully formed and capable of caring for themselves.