The weedy sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) is native to coastal waters of southern Australia, with a range from the east coast near Sydney, to Perth and to the west coast of Tasmania’s southern tip. It lives in temperate coastal waters with rocky reef outcroppings, sand patches adjacent to coral reefs, seaweed beds and seagrass meadows. There physical characteristics act as a camouflage in their native surroundings and look like sea weeds. A relative to the seahorse, the weedy sea dragon lacks teeth and stomachs and must feed nearly all the time. They feed on mysid shrimp, plankton, larval fish and other small crustaceans.
They are full grown at two years of age and can grow to 18 inches in length. Like the seahorse, the male weedy sea dragon broods the eggs on the underside of his tail on a brood patch. The female can lay more than 250 eggs on the underside of the male, which is soft at first but then forms a hardened layer of skin around each egg to protect them. After six to eight weeks, the eggs hatch, and the male releases the fry a few at a time until they are all released, which can take from a few hours to days to complete the release of the new fry.
The weedy sea dragon is listed as threatened by the IUCN. It can be found in large public aquariums and have been known to spawn in such facilities. Video and screengrab by John B. Virata
In captivity the weedy sea dragon is known to live upward of 10 years. In the wild, scientists have estimated their lifespan of between five and seven years. The weedy sea dragon in 2006 was listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List, due primarily to loss of habitat. The fish is protected in Australia at the local, state and federal level.