Adelaide’s weather is warming up and now is the perfect time to learn about a cool underwater local. Read on to find out everything you need to know about seadragons.

Leafy seadragon carrying eggs-Pauline Barrett, DragonSearch
A leafy seadragon carrying eggs. Photo: Pauline Barrett, DragonSearch.

Do seadragons exist?

If you type ‘seadragons’ into Google one the first things to come up is the question ‘do seadragons exist?’

A seadragon may seem like a mythical creature, but Adelaide actually has two types of them:

  1. leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) – also South Australia’s official marine emblem
  2. weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus).
Leafy seadragon-Martin Stokes
A leafy seadragon. Photo: Martin Stokes.
Weedy or common seadragon-Richard Ling, flickr
A weedy or common seadragon, which has visibly less leafy appendages than our other seadragon. Photo: Richard Ling, flickr.

Are seadragons the same as seahorses?

Seadragons and seahorses are not the same thing but they are close fish relatives.

A leafy seadragon and spiny seahorse-Martin Stokes and Nhobgood, flickr
A leafy seadragon and spiny seahorse. Photos: Martin Stokes and Nhobgood, Wikimedia Commons.

Similarities include:

  • Tube-snouted mouths that allow them to suck up their food.
  • Bony plates surrounding their bodies, instead of scales like most fish.
  • Being part of the fish family called Syngnathidae.

An interesting difference:

Seadragon dads carry eggs under their tail. Whereas seahorse dads carry their eggs in a pocket on their belly.

Where do seadragons live?

Seadragons live in rocky reefs, seagrass meadows and sometimes under jetties.

Weedy or common seadragon-Richard Ling, flickr
A weedy / common seadragon. Photo: Richard Ling, flickr.

How do seadragons reproduce?

Leafy seadragons

The leafy seadragon breeding season runs from around October through to January. During their breeding ritual, the female moves her eggs to cup-like structures under the male’s tail, where they are fertilised and are then carried until they hatch.

leafy seadragon carrying eggs-Antony King, Flinders University Underwater Club
Another leafy seadragon carrying his future children. Photo: Antony King, Flinders University Underwater Club.

The male carries 250–300 eggs at a time and it takes around 5–6 weeks for those eggs to hatch, which happens over the period of about a week. Upon hatching, the baby seadragons are dropped off across the ocean floor.

Some males do this twice in a season!

Leafy seadragon juvenile-Martin Stokes
A juvenile leafy seadragon. Photo: Martin Stokes.
Weedy seadragons

Weedy seadragons reproduce in much the same way as leafy seadragons. Males of this species will only carry one lot of eggs per season.

Weedy seadragon with eggs-Flinders University Underwater Club
A weedy seadragon with eggs. Photo: Flinders University Underwater Club.

How you can help

Here are a few easy ways you can help seadragons:

Leafy seadragon from above-Martin Stokes
Looking from above – a leafy seadragon. Photo: Martin Stokes.

This story was originally published in December 2021.

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