Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

These fish are slow-moving and rely on their camouflage as protection against predation; they drift in the water and with the leaf-like appendages resemble the swaying seaweed of their habitat (4). Individuals are observed either on their own or in pairs; feeding on planktonic organisms by sucking prey into their toothless mouths (4). Like seahorses, seadragon males are the sex that cares for the developing eggs. Females lay around 120 eggs onto the brood patch located on the underside of the males tail (4). The eggs are fertilised and carried by the male for around a month before the hatchlings emerge (4).
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Description

Weedy seadragons are one of only two species of seadragons, the second is known as the leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) due to the greater number of leaf-like appendages along its body (2). Seadragons resemble the seahorses to which they are related, having a bony-plated body and elongated snout; their tails are not prehensile however (3). Adult weedy seadragons are a reddish colour, with yellow and purple markings; they have small leaf-like appendages that provide camouflage and a number of short spines for protection (4). Males have narrower bodies and are darker than females (4). Seadragons have a long dorsal fin along the back and small pectoral fins on either side of the neck, which provide balance (3).
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Comprehensive Description

Biology

Recorded from the intertidal zone to a depth of 50 m (Ref. 9563). Frequently among seaweeds and coral reefs (Ref. 9137). Ovoviviparous (Ref. 205). The male carries the eggs in a brood pouch which is found under the tail (Ref. 205).
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Distribution

Weedy sea dragons, also known as common sea dragons, are endemic to the waters off of the southern coast of Australia. Individuals of this species have been sighted off the eastern coast of Australia in New South Wales, as far north as Port Stephens; along the southern coast; and up around the western coast of Australia as far north as Geraldton, West Australia. (Dawson, 1985)

Biogeographic Regions: australian (Native )

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Australia: New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
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Eastern Indian Ocean: southern Australia, from southern Western Australia to New South Wales and Tasmania (Ref. 9563).
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Range

Endemic to southern Australian waters, the weedy seadragon is found along the south coast from the Abrolhos Islands in Western Australia to Port Stephens, New South Wales. The range also includes the coast of Tasmania (3).
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Physical Description

Morphology

A weedy sea dragon reaches 45cm in length and has a narrow body with a long, tubular snout. It has two spines above its eye, one spine in front of the eye, and a varying number of leafy appendages, either paired or single, along its body. These purple appendages have a black border, and provide the fish camouflage in its habitat because they resemble floating seaweed. The bodies of these fish are usually red with yellow spots and seven purplish blue stripes near the head. Weedy sea dragons are not sexually dimorphic and have no subspecies, but do have a close relative: Phycodurus eques, the leafy sea dragon. The leafy sea dragon is found in the same geographic range, and differs in appearance only because it has many more appendages. (Scott, 1962)

Other Physical Features: bilateral symmetry

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Size

Maximum size: 460 mm ---
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Max. size

46.0 cm TL (male/unsexed; (Ref. 9563))
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Ecology

Habitat

Depth range based on 7 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 2 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0.5 - 78
  Temperature range (°C): 16.490 - 18.371
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.171 - 0.347
  Salinity (PPS): 35.625 - 36.070
  Oxygen (ml/l): 5.271 - 5.446
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.141 - 0.152
  Silicate (umol/l): 1.304 - 1.742

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 0.5 - 78

Temperature range (°C): 16.490 - 18.371

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.171 - 0.347

Salinity (PPS): 35.625 - 36.070

Oxygen (ml/l): 5.271 - 5.446

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.141 - 0.152

Silicate (umol/l): 1.304 - 1.742
 
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Phyllopteryx taeniolatus can be found in rocky reefs, sea weed beds, sea grass meadows, and kelp gardens. In all of these areas, their leafy appendages provide protection by means of camouflage against the sea weed. While this may seem like a broad range of habitat, sea dragons have very specific requirements. The water must be between 12 and 23 degrees Celsius, and 10-50 meters deep, although they most often are found between 8 and 12 meters deep. (Australian Museum, 1999)

Aquatic Biomes: reef

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Depth: 0 - 50m.
Recorded at 50 meters.

Habitat: demersal.
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Environment

reef-associated; marine; depth range 0 - 50 m (Ref. 9563)
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Depth range based on 7 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 2 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0.5 - 78
  Temperature range (°C): 16.490 - 18.371
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.171 - 0.347
  Salinity (PPS): 35.625 - 36.070
  Oxygen (ml/l): 5.271 - 5.446
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.141 - 0.152
  Silicate (umol/l): 1.304 - 1.742

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 0.5 - 78

Temperature range (°C): 16.490 - 18.371

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.171 - 0.347

Salinity (PPS): 35.625 - 36.070

Oxygen (ml/l): 5.271 - 5.446

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.141 - 0.152

Silicate (umol/l): 1.304 - 1.742
 
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Inhabiting coastal waters down to at least 50 metres deep, weedy seadragons are associated with rocky reefs, seaweed beds, seagrass meadows and structures colonised by seaweed (6).
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Trophic Strategy

Weedy sea dragons have no teeth, but instead feed by way of suction. Their pipe-like terminal mouth has an intricate system of bones pulled by muscles to create a strong suction force that is directed at food. Their prey include mysid shrimp, sea lice, and larval fish. (Scott, 1962)

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Found in inshore waters (Ref. 75154). Frequently among seaweeds and coral reefs (Ref. 9137).
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Life Cycle

Breeding behaviours and sexual dimorphism were observed in wild-caught weedy seadragons when the photoperiod exceeded 12.5 h daylength and water temperature exceeded 14?C; courtship behaviours typically lasted for 2-4 weeks before the time of breeding (Ref. 85751). Male carries the eggs in a brood pouch (Ref. 205). Gestation periods lasted from 30 to 38 days (Ref. 79764).
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Reproduction

While it is not known at what age sea dragons reach sexual maturity, their reproductive strategies are well documented. Like their relatives the sea horses, the male sea dragons brood the eggs. When a male is ready to receive the eggs, which he indicates by wrinkling the lower half of his tail, the female deposits about 250 ruby colored eggs onto his brood patch. The brood patch is made of tiny cups of blood-rich tissue, and each cup holds and nourishes one egg. After eight weeks, the eggs hatch over a period of a couple days. After hatching, the young sea dragons spend two or three days in the yolk sac of the egg, where they continue to be nourished. After the young leave the yolk sac, they feed on copepods and rotifers, although only 60-120 of them will survive, while the others fall prey to sea anemones. The season of breeding is August through March, and during this time the males brood two batches of eggs. The young receive no parental care after they hatch because they are released into the external environment. (Dawson, 1985; Cronulla Dive Center,   http://pixie.tig.com.au/~scuba/seadragon.html)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Phyllopteryx taeniolatus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Genomic DNA is available from 1 specimen with morphological vouchers housed at Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Weedy sea dragons are threatened by aquarium collectors and Oriental herbalists, who can sell their dried and powdered bodies for up to $200/gram. They are also killed by pollution and fertilizer run-off in their shallow, coastal habitats. Because of these threats, weedy sea dragons are a legally protected species in both New South Wales and Tasmania. (Australian Museum, 1999)

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened

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Status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1).
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Threats

Near Threatened (NT)
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This species is not at present a target of the trade in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is currently affecting seahorse numbers. However, they are likely to be threatened by the destruction of habitat that is occurring along coastal waters as a result of development and pollution (5).
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Management

Conservation

Currently, it is illegal to take or export these species in most of the states within which they occur (4). A database of seadragon sightings, known as 'Dragon Search' has been established with support from the Marine and Coastal Community Network (MCCN), Threatened Species Network (TSN) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), which encourages divers to report sightings (4). Monitoring of populations may provide indications of local water quality and seadragons could also become an important 'flagship' species for the often-overlooked richness of the unique flora and fauna of Australia's south coast (4).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

This peaceful species does not in any way negatively affect the human species.

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Members of this species have often been used in Asia as aphrodisiacs and other medicines. Also, many people go scuba diving off the coast of southern Australia specifically to see weedy sea dragons, which, therefore, promote tourism.

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Wikipedia

Weedy seadragon

Weedy seadragon or common seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) is a marine fish related to the seahorse. Adult weedy seadragons are a reddish colour, with yellow and purple markings; they have small leaf-like appendages that resemble kelp fronds providing camouflage and a number of short spines for protection.[1][2] Males have narrower bodies and are darker than females.[2] Seadragons have a long dorsal fin along the back and small pectoral fins on either side of the neck, which provide balance.[3] Weedy seadragons can reach 45 cm in length.

The weedy seadragon is the marine emblem of the Australian State of Victoria.[4]

Weedy Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, from the Sketchbook of fishes by William Buelow Gould, 1832

Range[edit]

The weedy seadragon is endemic to Australian waters of the Eastern Indian Ocean and the South Western Pacific Ocean. It can be found approximately between Port Stephens, New South Wales and Geraldton, Western Australia, as well as Tasmania.[5]

Habitat[edit]

The weedy seadragon inhabits coastal waters down to at least 50 m deep. It is associated with rocky reefs, seaweed beds, seagrass meadows and structures colonised by seaweed.[6]

Biology[edit]

These fish are slow-moving and rely on their camouflage as protection against predation; they drift in the water and with the leaf-like appendages resemble the swaying seaweed of their habitat.[2] They lack a prehensile tail that enables similar species to clasp and anchor themselves.

Individuals are observed either on their own or in pairs; feeding on tiny crustaceans and other zooplankton by sucking prey into their toothless mouths.[2] Like seahorses, seadragon males are the sex that cares for the developing eggs. Females lay around 120 eggs onto the brood patch located on the underside of the males' tail.[2] The eggs are fertilised and carried by the male for around a month before the hatchlings emerge.[2] Seadragons, seahorses and pipefish are among the few known species where the male carries the eggs. The young are independent at birth, beginning to eat shortly after.[7]

Phyllopteryx taeniolatus

Mating in captivity is rare since researchers have yet to understand what biological or environmental factors trigger them to reproduce. In captivity the survival rate for weedy seadragons is about 60%.[8]

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee[9] in the USA, and the Melbourne Aquarium in Melbourne, Australia[10] are among the few facilities in the world to have successfully bred weedy seadragons in captivity, though others occasionally report egg laying.[11] In March 2012 the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, USA, announced a successful breeding event of weedy seadragons.[12] As of July 2012, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has also successfully bred and hatched out baby weedy seadragons on exhibit.[13]

Threats[edit]

The weedy sea dragon is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2006.[14] While the weedy sea dragon is a desired species in the international aquarium trade, the volume of wild-caught individuals is small and therefore not currently a major threat. Instead, habitat loss and degradation due to human activities and pollution threaten weedy sea dragons most. The loss of suitable seagrass beds, coupled with natural history traits that make them poor dispersers, put the future of sea dragon populations at risk. This species is not at present a victim of bycatch or a target of trade in Traditional Chinese Medicine, two activities which are currently a threat to many related seahorse and pipefish populations.[15][16]

Conservation[edit]

It is illegal to take or export these species in most of the states within which they occur.[2] A database of seadragon sightings, known as 'Dragon Search' has been established with support from the Marine and Coastal Community Network (MCCN), Threatened Species Network (TSN) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), which encourages divers to report sightings.[2] Monitoring of populations may provide indications of local water quality and seadragons could also become an important 'flagship' species for the often-overlooked richness of the unique flora and fauna of Australia’s south coast.[2]

Related species[edit]

The weedy seadragon is in the subfamily Syngnathinae, which contains all pipefish. It is most closely related to the other member of its genus, the ruby seadragon (Phyllopteryx dewysea), and also the leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques). Haliichthys taeniophorus, sometimes referred to as the "ribboned seadragon" is not closely related (it does not form a true monophyletic clade with weedy and leafy seadragons).[17]

The weedy seadragon was previously the only member of its genus until the discovery of the Ruby seadragon in 2015. [18]

Ongoing research[edit]

In the November 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine, marine biologist Greg Rouse is reported as investigating the DNA variation of the two seadragon species across their ranges.

References[edit]

This article incorporates text from the ARKive fact-file "Weedy seadragon" under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and the GFDL.

  1. ^ Bray, D.J. 2011, Common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, in Fishes of Australia, accessed 26 Aug 2014, http://www.fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3127
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Dragon Search". Dragon Search. Retrieved April 2003. 
  3. ^ "Melbourne Aquarium". Melbourne Aquarium. Retrieved April 2003. 
  4. ^ Dept of Sustainability and Environment Victoria > The marine faunal emblem for the State of Victoria Retrieved 8 August 2011
  5. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2014). "Phyllopteryx taeniolatus" in FishBase. November 2014 version.
  6. ^ "Western Australia Department of Fisheries". Western Australia Department of Fisheries. Retrieved April 2003. 
  7. ^ Morrison, S. & Storrie, A. (1999). Wonders of Western Waters: The Marine Life of South-Western Australia. CALM. p. 68. ISBN 0-7309-6894-4. 
  8. ^ Associated Press (12 June 2008). "Endangered sea dragon at Ga. aquarium pregnant". Newsvine. Retrieved 2 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Papercut Interactive. "Tennessee Aquarium". tnaqua.org. 
  10. ^ Melbourne Aquarium > Conservation Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  11. ^ "Weedy Seadragons spawn for Hong Kong aquarist". AquaDaily. 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2009-02-01. 
  12. ^ Largest Brood of Weedy Sea Dragons Born at Georgia Aquarium Georgia Aquarium press release, 29 March 2012. Accessed 15 August 2013.
  13. ^ Weedy Sea Dragons Born At Monterey Bay Aquarium Retrieved 5 August 2012
  14. ^ "IUCN Red List". IUCN Red List. Retrieved May 2006. 
  15. ^ Martin-Smith, K. & Vincent, A. (2006): Exploitation and trade of Australian seahorses, pipehorses, sea dragons and pipefishes (Family Syngnathidae). Oryx, 40: 141-151.
  16. ^ "Weedy Seadragon". Zoo Aquarium Association. Retrieved 6 Sep 2012. 
  17. ^ Wilson, N.G. & Rouse, G.W. (2010): Convergent camouflage and the non-monophyly of 'seadragons' (Syngnathidae:Teleostei): suggestions for a revised taxonomy of syngnathids. Zoologica Scripta, 39: 551-558.
  18. ^ "Rare Ruby Seadragon uncovered in Western Australia". Western Australian Museum. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
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