Restricted to the southern Australian coast
Seagrass beds and rocky reefs
Visual planktivore (predator)
Near Threatened With Extinction
Order Syngnathiformes (pipefishes and relatives), Family Syngnathidae (pipefishes and seahorses)
The leafy seadragon is a charismatic species native to the southern coast of Australia. Though these fish resemble seahorses, they are actually more closely related to the pipefishes, and they may be intermediate between these two groups of fishes. Leafy seadragons are named for their plant-like appearance that allows them to perfectly blend in with algae that grow in the seagrass beds and the rocky reefs where they live.
Leafy seadragons are very poor swimmers and rely on their camouflage to avoid predation. They are relatively large compared to their closely related species and reach lengths of up to one foot (30 cm) long. Leafy seadragons eat small, plankton crustaceans but are small enough themselves and have sufficient vision to see and attack individual prey (unlike large filter feeders). Their heads are relatively large compared to their very small mouths, so they are able to concentrate enough pressure at their mouths to easily suck in their prey.
Like in seahorses and pipefishes, male leafy seadragons care for the fertilized eggs. They do not have a specialized pouch like male seahorses but instead carry the eggs under the tail. There, they remain exposed to the elements but safe, and the male provides them with necessary levels of oxygen through a specialized, nearby organ. Newly hatched leafy seadragons receive no further parental care. They reach sexual maturity in approximately two years.
The leafy seadragon is a popular species in public aquaria and its trade is tightly regulated. There are very few people licensed to collect leafy seadragons, and a more significant threat to their populations comes from their accidental capture in fisheries targeting other species. Scientists consider this species to be near threatened with extinction. Without continued careful management of the human activities that affect leafy seadragon populations, the species could become more seriously at risk of being lost.