In honor of 2012 Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, our website features leafy sea dragons, tumbling and tiny shrimp-hunting residents of the rocky shores of Western Australia. Unlike their close cousins the seahorses, leafy sea dragons live not in coral reefs but in rocky coasts. This habitat resembles tide pools that have are sunken beneath the waves at all tides. Sea grasses and seaweeds decorate the rocky pools in a rich habitat where tiny shrimp-like animals, such as mysid and krill, live.
The sea dragons set out on the hunt. Transparent fins on their chests and backs propel them, not always with accurate direction, toward the sea grasses. They are also content to let waves float them wherever they land, almost like autumn leaves coasting on the wind. Once at the grasses, they search for their shrimp-like prey and suck them up through a straw.
Leafy sea dragons live up to their name. Odd leaf like appendages cover their olive and yellowish bodies. Stripes look like blades of sea grass. But I wonder why they need such dramatic camouflage when I read that they have no know natural predator. In fact, their costume has worked against their survival as unscrupulous collectors have tried to nab them from their rocky homes to stick them behind aquarium glass (of course, conservation-related collecting with appropriate destinations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an exception).
In addition to fierce decoration, no Chinese dragon would be complete without a pearl held under the chin or foot. In traditional Chinese symbolism, the pearl represents good luck or wealth. Leafy sea dragons have their own pearls, their eggs. The male leafy sea dragons keep round pink eggs in a special pocket on their tales. Living up to the Australian marsupial tradition, they keep their young close. The eggs hatch into tiny dragons after about four to six weeks, just as mythological dragons are believed to hatch from eggs.
Happy New Year from these underwater, sea-fronded fantastical creatures!
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