The surreal and showy world of sea dragons

Sea dragons
© Jason Mintzner

As if costumed by avant garde couturiers, these masters of disguise are some of the most flamboyant creatures in the sea.

When you live in the ocean and come equipped with tiny little fins that allow you little more than steering awkwardly as you tumble through the water, it’s nice to have really great camouflage. Case in point, the sea dragon.

Sea dragonsWikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Sea dragons come in two styles, leafy sea dragons (Phycodurus eques), above, are the more ornate of the two, with leaf-like gossamer appendages festooning their slender bodies. The other species, the weedy (or common) seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), below, is a bit less flamboyant and lacks the profusion of "leaves," but is no less strange or wonderful.

Larger than their seahorse cousins, the leafy versions grow up to 14 inches in length, the weedy ones to an impressive 18 inches. They’re more like branches!

Sea dragonsWikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Unlike seahorses, to which they are related, sea dragons don’t have prehensile tails and are thus unable to grab on to things to anchor themselves. So they drift and float and sway through their watery world, much like the seaweed and kelp that they so closely mimic.

Sea dragonsWikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Sea dragonWikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Endemic to ocean areas off of south and east Australia, the poor things are favored by divers for the pet trade. Such is the price for being so exquisite, sadly, when it comes man and animals. Kidnapping sea dragons became so widespread that their numbers dropped to critical proportions by the early 1990s, when the Australian government, thankfully, placed a complete protection on both species. Hopefully, that masterful camouflage will steer these magical creatures away from further harm.

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