|Sea Dragon Facts|
|Proper name||Family Syngnathidae.|
|Life span||Unknown, maybe eight years.|
|Food||Tiny crustaceans called mysids.|
|Habitat||Southern Austrlian waters.|
|Bonus fact||Sea dragons are caught accidentally in trawl nets and captured for aquariums, where they usually die. Now Australia protects them from collectors by law.|
|The leafy sea dragon (above) and the weedy sea dragon (right) both live in southern Australian seas. They look different because each is perfectly adapted to different depths: streamers of tissue let the leafy sea dragon live unseen among plants at 30-90 feet of water while the red, purple and yellow colors of the weedy sea dragon hide it among the vivid sponges deeper down.This creature may appear fragile but it’s really wearing a coat of armor. The scales that cover most fish have changed into bony plates and rings that protect its soft body.|
|Along with their sea horse cousins, sea dragons are unique among fishes in the way they breed: the parenting roles are reversed. The female sea dragon deposits up to 250 eggs on the male’s body where they stay until they hatch, in about two months. When the baby is ready, the egg opens with a pop.|
|The baby just hangs from the egg, straightening out. Then, it begins to wriggle free and swims off on its own. In the first month, the baby grows from just 1½ inches to four inches. In about two years, it reaches the adult length of 10-12 inches.|
At first, the baby sea dragon is a miniature of the adult, just smaller and with simpler “leaves.” As the days pass, its color will deepen and the appendages become longer and more elaborate.
Two more things that make sea dragons weird and wonderful: eyes and mouth. Each of the creature’s two eyes moves independently, so a sea dragon can look left and front and right and backward at the same time! Also, since it has no teeth, the sea dragon must slurp up tiny shrimplike animals through its long tube-mouth, like drinking through a straw.