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No, that isn’t a piece of random floating seaweed - look closely and you’ll see that it’s actually a Leafy Sea Dragon, one of the most elaborately camouflaged and serenely beautiful creatures in the sea. Closely related to seahorses and pipefish, Sea Dragons are decorated with delicate, irregular fronds that make them perfectly suited to hide amongst the formations of seaweed and kelp where they make their home.

 

Found in the waters off Southern and Eastern Australia, leafy sea dragons (Phycodurus eques) are normally brown to yellow and reach lengths of no more than 14 inches when full grown. They feed on plankton, larval fish and tiny crustaceans such as sea lice by sucking them up through their long, pipe-like snouts, and their tiny, transparent dorsal and pectoral fins mean that they can only swim slowly, but they seem happy to drift and tumble in the current like the surrounding seaweed, thus furthering the illusion.

 

For such a delicate creature, however, “leafies” live surprisingly solitary lifestyles, being independent from the moment they’re hatched and only pairing up when the time comes to breed. Yet their vulnerability and beauty has nevertheless made them a target for both collectors and as prized ingredients in Chinese alternative medicine, causing the Australian government to protect the species. Obtaining them legally can therefore be difficult and costly, but thankfully Maidenhead Aquatics are able to provide captive-bred specimens of their equally fascinating cousins the seahorses to the knowledgeable aquarist.

Thank you for reading this week's edition of FIN ('Fascinating Ichthyological Nugget'): the easiest way to propel your aquatic knowledge! We sincerely hope that you'll find these of interest and want to share them with your friends…