Native to waters off southern and eastern Australia, leafy and weedy sea dragons are closely related to seahorses and pipefish. Similar to Seahorses they have very long, thin snouts; slender trunks covered in bony rings, and thin tails but these tails are not prehensile and cannot be used for gripping as with the seahorses which means they do not contend well with strong currents and they are often washed ashore after big storms. Both species are slow-moving and rely on their camouflage as protection against predation.
Leafy sea dragons (Phycodurus eques) as the name implies are covered with leaf-shaped skin appendages over their entire bodies and these are shaped to blend in with the seaweed they live among. These leaf shaped appendages called cirri serve no other purpose than camouflage and they propel themselves slowly through the water using their transparent dorsal fins, steering with pectoral fins located on the neck behind the head, giving the appearance that they are nothing more than a floating piece of seaweed. They are not strong swimmers given their hydrodynamic properties and the drag created by the cirri.
Male leafy sea dragons have a spongy brood patch under the tail where females deposit their eggs during mating. The eggs are fertilized during the transfer and the males incubate the eggs on the brood patch, the specialized patch area supplying the eggs with oxygen until they hatch. The young are released into the water after about four to six weeks and are completely independent after hatching.
Leafy sea dragons are brown to yellow in color with olive-tinted appendages and they have the ability to change color to adapt to their surroundings. They grow to approximately 35 cm (14″) in length. They eat crustaceans and plankton, as well as small fish which they suck into their teethless mouths.
Weedy sea dragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) have less appendages on their skins and the appendages are smaller than the leafy sea dragons and they inhabit areas of grassy seabed or any area on the reef colonized by seaweed and are often found in floating debris in these areas. They are usually reddish in color with yellow spots and grow slightly larger than their Leafy cousins to Eighteen Inches or Forty Six Centimeters long. They also have a long dorsal fin along the back for propulsion and small pectoral fins for steering.
The adults are a reddish color with yellow and purple markings. Males are narrower and darker than females and like seahorses they have a brood pouch in which the female deposits the eggs. The male then carries the eggs for around a month until they hatch and the fully independent weedy sea dragons emerge. As with the leafy sea dragon they suck their prey of small crustaceans , plankton and small fish into their mouths.