Sunday, 16 June 2013

Leafy Seadragon

Image: Pierre METIVIER
Phycodurus eques
It may be difficult to believe when you see them on the catwalk strutting their overly abundant stuff, but the Leafy Seadragon is actually a master of camouflage!

Members of the Sygnathidae family are known as Pipefish and they usually look like a big pipe body with a little pipe mouth sticking out of one end. Among such plain and simple plumbing, the Leafy Seadragon sticks out a mile for just how unbelievably rubbish they are at being a pipe.

Image: Images by John 'K'
It's a plant with a little pipe mouth on one end!
Imagine if the plumbing under the street was like a Leafy Seadragon! They'd have to close off half the road, tear up the tarmac and then get a machete and some hedge clippers to cut through all the stem-like things and the leaf-like things before they could get to the actual pipe. Roadworks would take even MORE forever than they do now!

I guess if your pipes really were all Leafy and Seadragony, you wouldn't want to keep them underground where no-one could see them. They'd be perfect for jazzing up those weird, inside out buildings, though! Add a bit of colour and shape to those boring ducts. All this is assuming that the stem-like things and the leaf-like things aren't actual stems and leaves of plants that have roots busily cracking your wonky pipes open.

Image: Ethan Hein
Leafy Seadragons reach almost 30 cm (a foot) long
And that's exactly what the Leafy Seadragon wants you think. Not "look at that crazy animal" but "don't bother looking at that boring clump of boring seaweed being boring". The effect is amazing! You can almost hear the rustling of leaves...

Image: California Academy of Sciences
They use their pipe mouth to feed on plankton and tiny crustaceans
I'm particularly fond of the leafy beard and leafy hairstyle. The Green Man himself couldn't do it better!

If you part the foliage and try to look at the Leafy Seadragon's actual body, you'll see it has a very strange, decidedly unfishlike, zigzag shape. Leafy Seadragons occupy an odd halfway house between normal Pipefish and Seahorses. They're not straight as a pole like a Pipefish, nor are they bent and upright like a Seahorse. They're sort of... up and down. Squiggly!

Image: Ta-graphy
From some angles the Leafy Seadragon may look like an emaciated deathbeast with exposed ribs
Something else that Seahorses have and the Leafy Seadragon doesn't is that cool prehensile tail. Leafy Seadragons can't grab hold of anything when the seas get rough, so they must ensure they keep themselves to quiet waters around kelp and sea grass in their south Australian home.

It would be nice to imagine the Leafy Seadragon suddenly sweeping back all those leaves to thrust forward like a Viking longship, the stems of their leaf-beard plastered to their neck as if clinging for dear life in fear of such terrifying speed. And all the while the Sea Dragon roars in fury and delight at the prospect of a good pillaging. HUZZAH!

But no. It doesn't happen. Instead, they swim by furiously fluttering their entirely transparent dorsal fin and steering with equally transparent pectoral fins on their neck.

Video: OzPix .

The effect is a slow, graceful march through the sea. The Leafy Seadragon's finery isn't built for speed. It's built for looking at. And mistaking for a bush. So it all works really well for something that can't swim much faster than a clump of drifting seaweed, anyway.

The Leafy Seadragon takes ownership of its deficiencies and SO CAN YOU! If at first you don't succeed, get the Didn't Succeed t-shirt and join your local Didn't Succeed club.

Video: madge1964

Despite their ponderous swimming Leafy Seadragons are known to get around a bit even if they sometimes stay in one place for several days. Sometimes they travel in pairs! At which point they must look like one of those achingly beautiful couples that somehow annoy everyone even as they convince us that everything is horribly right with the world. Thankfully, they just look like a big clump of seaweed.

Just like Seahorses and Pipefish, it's up to the male to look after the eggs. He doesn't have a brood pouch like a Seahorse does; he has brood patch, instead. It's a special patch of skin on his tail which gets all thick and rich in blood so he can share some of his oxygen with the unborn.

Image: FishWise Professional
The female deposits a couple hundred pink eggs on his special patch, which then turn purple over his month of pre-baby sitting. At this point they must look like juicy grapes nestled on a luscious vine. But that's OK. I'm sure no predators would be barbaric enough to try and make red wine to go with their raw seafood.

The youngsters are independent as soon as they hatch from the egg. Now the little seedlings must catch extremely tiny plankton so they can send up new shoots and grow into a big, strong clump of drifting seaweed.


TexWisGirl said...

beautiful things!

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

They really are! Camouflage doesn't usually result in such a spectacle!

Ishrat Hussain Mohammad said...

There are signs in the nature, there are signs of God.

Daniel Berke said...

Ooh, Leafy Sea Dragons! I love those guys!

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

@Ishrat Hussain Mohammad: That's certainly one interpretation for those so inclined!

@Daniel Berke: They're amazing!

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