Seriously though — Plant or fish?
In case you’ve missed their appearances in recent documentaries and photo collections, these spectacular sea creatures mostly decorate the undersea forests on the southern and western coasts of Australia. There’s a sort of medieval vibe to them and a charm I find worthy of adulation. With their flowing crepe-like appendages, it’s as if they’re dressing up for a late show at the Folies Bergere. These fancy protrusions serve as protective camouflage, so predators don’t find them amidst the seaweed on the ocean floor.
These “leafies” as they are commonly called, are in fact categorized in the family Syngnathidae, which also includes seahorses. They each have a long, pipe-like snout that they use to feed. They consume plankton and small crustaceans, and grow to measure about 8 – 10 inches long.
Seriously though — Mommy or Daddy?
Yes, it’s true. After a courting dance that can last up to several weeks at a time, it’s the male that will eventually fall pregnant once the female has deposited hundreds of eggs onto his tail. For the next 5-6 weeks, the father will spend his time buried deep in the ocean’s thick kelp meadows to doggedly protect his young from predators. Eventually Dad will give birth and the eggs will drop.
To me, these wondrous creatures are the ocean’s own found art. Maybe, more accurately, they are performance artists. As you will see in the video clip below, two small fins gently propel sea dragons through the water as if they are floating weeds. It’s quite miraculous to watch their fragile forms glide so gracefully and blend in so seamlessly with what surrounds them. While they are not considered endangered, they are threatened by pollution and industrial runoff. The good news is this: Sea dragons are protected under Australian law, and their export is strictly regulated.