Leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques)

Leafy seadragon swimming
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Leafy seadragon fact file

Leafy seadragon description

GenusPhycodurus (1)

Leafy seadragons (Phycodurus eques) are exquisitely camouflaged fish. Belonging to the same family as seahorses and pipefish (Syngnathidae), they resemble these with their elongated snout and bony-plated body (2). Leafy seadragons are yellowish-brown to green in colour, although they may vary depending on their age, diet or location (2). The pectoral fins are located on the neck, and a dorsal fin runs along the seadragon's back (3). As their common name suggests, there are a number of leaf-like appendages along the body, which help to make these fish resemble the seaweed of their habitat. The eyes are located above the elongated snout and there are a number of defensive spines along the sides of the body (2).

Also known as
Glauert’s seadragon.
Length: 30 cm (2)

Leafy seadragon biology

Leafy seadragons are seen either solitarily or in pairs, they are slow-moving and rely on their elegant camouflage to provide protection from predators (2). In common with seahorses, it is the male seadragon that carries the developing eggs. The breeding season runs from October to March (5), and males develop a 'brood patch' on the underside of the tail that consists of cups of blood-rich tissue, which each hold an egg (4). The female transfers around 120 eggs into these pits; the eggs are then fertilised and carried by the male for about a month (2). Hatchlings emerge over several days and are initially only around 20 millimetres in length. They are extremely vulnerable to predation but grow quickly, attaining adult size by the time they are two years old (2). Seadragons feed on small organisms such as plankton and mysids by sucking them into their tube-like snout (2).


Leafy seadragon range

Endemic to southern Australia, the leafy seadragon is known from Geraldton in Western Australia to the Bellarine Peninsula, Victoria (5).


Leafy seadragon habitat

Inhabiting rocky reefs, seaweed beds, seagrass meadows and structures colonised by seaweed, leafy seadragons are found in shallow coastal waters down to at least 30 metres deep (5).


Leafy seadragon status

The leafy seadragon is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Leafy seadragon threats

Unlike seahorses, seadragons are not in demand from the Traditional Chinese Medicine market but they may nevertheless be captured for the aquarium trade. Loss of habitat is considered the greatest threat to seadragons. Coastal habitats are increasingly damaged from the effects of urban and agricultural run-off, industrial pollution and other human activities and impacts (5).


Leafy seadragon conservation

Little is known about the population distribution of leafy seadragons, or much of their behaviour. They are fully protected in Australian waters (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 (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).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on seadragons:



Authenticated (25/6/03) by Jeremy Gramp, Dragon Search.



Dorsal fin
In fish, the unpaired fin found on the back of the body.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Pectoral fins
In fish, the pair of fins that are found one on each side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
  2. Dragon Search (April, 2003)
  3. Australia Museum Online (April, 2003)
  4. Gramp, J. (2003) Pers. comm.
  5. Western Australia Department of Fisheries (April, 2003)

Image credit

Leafy seadragon swimming  
Leafy seadragon swimming

© Valerie Taylor / www.ardea.com

Ardea wildlife pets environment
59 Tranquil Vale
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 318 1401


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