Weedy Seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) – Distribution – biology – conservation (Video)

This video was taken in Monterey Bay Aquarium, California, USA.

Video and text ownership: Abdel Rahman El Gamal

Source: www.fishconsult.org

Introduction: The weedy seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, is the only member of the genus Phyllopteryx and family Syngnathidae which is also known as common seadragon or Lucas’ Sea-dragon. The family includes also seahorses, pipefish and pipe horses.

Weedy seadragons are one of only two living species of seadragons, the second is known as the leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques). The weedy seadragons can live for up to 10 years in the wild. The species has been selected as marine emblem of the Australian State of Victoria since 2002.

Distribution and habitats: The weedy seadragon is endemic to the southern Australian temperate marine waters. It occurs in the coastal waters from Port Stephens in New South Wales down to the southern coast of Australia including Tasmania, and up to Geraldton in Western Australia.

This weedy seadragon inhabits variety of habitats including shallow waters of depths of relatively shallow water to up to 50 meters deep whereas the weedy seadragon generally inhabits kelp-covered rocky reefs, seaweed beds, and seagrass meadows.

Description: The Common Seadragon has a long pipe-like snout with a small terminal mouth. Adults of seadragons usually are reddish in color with yellow spots and purple markings. They have leaf-like appendages which occur along their body that provide camouflage as well as a number of short spines for protection. Males have narrower bodies and are darker than females whose bodies are deeper and compressed. Seadragons have a long dorsal fin along the back and small pectoral fins on either side of the neck, which provide balance. Weedy seadragons reach up to approximately 45cm in length with an average length of about 30 cm. It may worth mentioning that weedy seadragons are easily injured during handling.

Reproduction: As with sea horses, seadragon males are responsible for developing eggs and childbearing although seadragons males do not have pouch for rearing the young. Sexual maturity of weedy seadragon is often reached within two years. During mating, females deposit around 120-300 eggs onto a spongy brood patch located on the underside of the male’s tail. The eggs are fertilized during the transfer to the male whereas fertilized eggs are incubated by the male for 4-6 weeks before the miniature seadragons of about 2.5 centimeters are released into the water. The hatching takes place of a period of about six days. The young are independent upon as they begin feeding shortly after birth. The successful breeding of the Weedy Seadragon in captivity took place in several in the world especially in USA (including the Monterey Bay Aquarium) and in Australia.

Food habits and predation: Seadragons feed mainly on tiny crustaceans such as mysids and sea lice. Their snouts are equipped with special muscles which enable widening the snout and hence capturing different sizes of food and passing it into their toothless mouths.

Behavior: These fish are poor swimmers and are drift in the water current and so washed ashore during storms which could lead to natural mortality. With their leaf-like appendages, they resemble the seaweed of their habitat providing the animals with excellent camouflage which fish relies on as protection against predation.

Threats: The major threat for weedy seadragon is the destruction of their habitats as represented in the decline of seagrass and kelp habitats as well as pollution. To a lesser extent, the international aquarium trade may contribute by a small proportion to such threats especially in the light of the difficulty in maintaining the weedy seadragon in aquariums. Moreover, there is no much demand on the species for other purposes. Added to that, the excellent camouflage the species enjoy protects the fish against possible predators. However, when all factors are combined with the natural history traits, the weedy seadragon population is considered at risk. According to IUCN, the species has been classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2006.

Conservation status: In Australia, some conservation measures are applied. These include the banning of fishing or exporting the species in most of the states. Also, the species has been declared protected in New South Wales and Tasmanian waters. Similarly, Weedy Seadragon is fully protected under the Victorian Fisheries Act 1995.  Moreover, taking or possessing weedy seadragons is considered an offence whereas heavy penalties apply that ranges from significant fines and can reach three months in prison. More measures have been taken to prevent the damage to the habitats of the species.

References: References: National geographic, Wikipedia, Parks Victoria, Prime Facts, BBC Nature Wild Life, ARKIVE, Australian Museum

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