Well, that is certainly a marvelous (and terrifying) description of a dragon but it is not the kind of dragon we will be seeking today! Fortunately, the dragons we're diving for are quite benign.
Today we’re diving into the waters off the south Australian coastline. If we go slowly and take a good look at that seaweed over there, we can see that particular bunch of yellow spotted weeds has a long snout, a slender, bony ringed, spiny body and a thin tail. And … it’s swimming (sort of) away. That, my intrepid companions, is called a Leafy Sea Dragon or ‘Leafies’ for short. (And no, I didn’t make up that name!)
Look at how intricate this little guy’s appendages are. They look just like the seaweed he’s been hanging out in. (Funny he’s not called a Weedy but that’s our next discovery) He uses his transparent pectoral fin, on his neck ridge, and a transparent dorsal fin, on his back close to his tail, to propel himself through the water. Personally, I think he looks more like he’s bobbing through the water than swimming. Along with his leafy appearance, this mode of transport is a great camouflage as it imitates the undulating motion of seaweed and helps to keep him hidden.
These guys and gals grow to about 14 inches long and live off plankton and small crustaceans like sea lice. (Yes, that would not be my choice de jour but to each their own.) They suck their food into their long tubesnouts because they don't have any teeth and they eat continuously because they have no stomach. If you swim over to that side of our little friend and I stay just slightly behind him over here, he can still see us because his eyes can act independent of one another so he can actually look in two directions at once! (I think that must be a bit weird, don't you?)
There’s much to be admired about these little fish, not the least being they mate for life. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, like his seahorse cousin, the male is responsible for childbearing. He has a brood patch on the underside of his tail where the females lay their bright pink eggs. He incubates and carries the eggs for about eight weeks. Then he releases the tiny baby Sea Dragons into the water.
While they have no ‘natural’ predators they do unfortunately have to deal with humanity and sadly that is causing a decrease in their population. The other problem they have is that their tails, unlike their Seahorse cousins, are not able to grasp onto things and consequently they are often washed onto shore during storms. Because of their decreasing numbers they are on the ‘threatened’ list and under government protection. The ‘Leafies’also have the distinction of being the marine emblem for South Australia.
Our next discovery is in the same southern Australian waters as the Leafy Sea Dragon. These fish are called Weedy Sea Dragons or… you guessed it, ‘Weedies’.
Let’s swim over to that patch of kale where we can see that multi-colored Weedie. As you can see, the Weedies are similar to the Leafies but not as ornate. They have fewer weed-like fins and are slightly larger, growing to about 16-18 inches.
I think the Weedie’s bear a closer resemblance to the dragons of legend. If we’re careful we can get a little closer and see the whitish yellow spots that cover their spiny, red-orange bodies, and tube shaped snout. Notice that one has purple stripes on its body too. I love how they puff out their chubby cheeks and flutter their long transparent dorsal fin.
They have a lot in common with their Leafie cousins and yes, the male carries the eggs. These dragons have an intricate dance that they perform as part of their mating ritual. They mirror each other’s movements as they swim amongst the weeds that provide them sanctuary. This dance may go on for hours until the female transfers her fertilized eggs to her mate and then he takes over their care until they hatch. Then, the little dragons are on their own.
The Weedies are also on the near threatened list and protected by the Australian government.
So, what do you think of these little guys? They may not be breathing fire at us ( a good thing!) but I think they certainly provide us with another fine example of God's fantastical creations.
Next time we'll be searching for another marine creature originally known as Medusa. Can you guess what it is?