In my Did You Know series, learn some fun facts about an animal in 5 minutes. I’ll tell you stuff you didn’t already know (hopefully). Let me know if I surprised you!
Today I’ll tantalise your curiosity taste buds with a master of masquerade: the leafy sea dragon.
Did You Know?
- It is a species of fish named after the dragons described in Chinese mythology and folklore (and more recently in George R. R Martin’s Game of Thrones)
- It is the only member of the Phycodurus genus in the Syngnathidae family of fishes.
- Its resemblance to a piece of drifting seaweed may help to protect it from predators. Its seaweed-like appearance not only allows it to match the background of seaweed and kelp it lives amongst (making it very hard for predators to spot), but it may also serve as a type of camouflage called ‘masquerade’. This is when an animal tricks its predator into thinking it’s an inedible object that isn’t dinner, similarly to that seen in leaf and stick insects. If you’re interested, you can read more about masquerade here and here.
- Another aspect of this ‘floating seaweed’ trick seems to be the sea dragon’s sedate movement through the water. It moves at a slow rate of about 150m per hour propelled by fins along the side of its head but often stays in the same place for long periods of time.
- Unusually in the animal kingdom, the male is the sole responsible parent. The female deposits 150-250 bright pink eggs onto the male’s tail, and then leaves him to it. He carries them in a honeycomb-like structure called the brood patch for 8 weeks where they are supplied with oxygen until the young emerge (like its relatives: seahorses, pipefish and other sea dragons). Only about 5% of the eggs survive and the young are completely independent at birth.
- It feeds exclusively on small crustaceans like mysid shrimp.
- Their natural habitat is calm, cold water (10-12 degrees Celsius) in the southern coasts of Australia, where they are known locally as ‘leafies’.
- It is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List 2006, and may even be reclassified as Endangered, mainly due to habitat loss and pollution through human activity.
- It has been protected by the Australian government since 1982 and is the marine emblem for the state of South Australia.
Thanks for reading and look out for other posts in my Did You Know? series!