Leafy Sea Dragon
Sea dragons are ornately camouflaged with gossamer, leaf-shaped appendages over their entire bodies. They blend in with the seaweed and kelp formations they float within.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopteri
- Order: Thoracostei
- Family: Syngnathidae
- Subfamily: Phyllopteryginae
- Genus: Phycodurus
- Species: Phycodurus eques
Sea Dragons, found in the brown kelp beds of Southern Australia, belong to the family Syngnathidae, which also includes the seahorses, pipefish and pipehorses. Leafy seadragons reach a length of approximately 35 centimeters and are covered with jointed, armor-like plates instead of scales.
Not surprisingly, there is debate among ichthyologists as to the evolutionary appearance of the horizontally-swimming seadragon, either as a stepping stone between the horizontal pipefish and the vertical seahorse or as a divergent cousin of the seahorse. There is very little information at all out there about the evolution of the Leafy Sea Dragon. There are some fossil remains of seahorses though that date back more than 3 million years. It is believed that these branched out from them and that they were once much larger than what we see today. The two distinct and separate genera of seadragons, Phycodurus and Phyllopteryx, are believed to have divergently evolved from two separate pipefish genii; ancestral forms of Leptonotus and Haliichtys respectively.
Although the elongated and camouflaged appendages are also found less dramatically in its close cousins Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (weedy seadragon) and Haliicthys taeniophora (ribboned seadragon), the leafy seadragon is by far one of the greatest examples of adaptive camouflage in the animal kingdom.
They don’t really have any natural predators in their environment, although, as are all dragons, they have been affected by the predatory natures of mankind. They blend in to the surroundings so amazingly well that they aren’t detected as a food source even when predators are right there in front of them.