Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques

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Reprinted  from the 2005  Syngnathid Husbandry Manual with permission.

Seadragons in captivity.

Seadragons in captivity.

Species Description

The Leafy seadragon, Phycodurus eques, the most ornate member of the family Syngnathidae, has long been known to aquarists as one of the most beautiful and unique of all the fishes. Found only in Southern and Western Australian waters, the Leafy seadragon is a master of camouflage. Named for the dragons of Chinese myth, this relative of the pipefishes and seahorses is named for the leaf-like appendages that adorn its body.

Natural Habitat

Inhabiting the rocky coastal areas, at depths of 20-25 meters, the seadragons can be found drifting between the blades of kelp or clumps of Sargassum, to which they bear a striking resemblance. Leafy seadragons and their close relatives the Weedy seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, can be located near piers and jetties sheltered by the seaweeds that grow on them, and at deeper depths with rocky structures and sandy patches. They are often found with seagrasses known as sea nymph Amphibolus antarctica, and brown algaes and kelps such as Ecklonia radiata, Macrocystis angustifolia, Cystophora moniliformis, Cystophora subfarcinata, and Cystophora retorta. They can also be found in clumps of Sargassum sp. (Quong 2002)

A field study describing the patterns of movements and habitat use by Leafy seadragons was conducted by Connolly et al near Wright Island in South Australia and found that during their study period ultrasonically tagged Leafy seadragons spent more time over Posidonia seagrass and less time over other sea grasses or kelps. The authors state that these findings might result directly from habitat selection by seadragons, or indirectly from seadragons positioning themselves in response to other factors such as water movement or prey abundance. (Connolly et al 2002)

Leafy seadragons are found in a temperate climate where the water temperature remains very cool for most of the year. According to information available from the National Tidal Facility (NTF) which runs an Australian Baseline Sea Level Monitoring Project, the temperatures in the coastal areas where seadragons are commonly found ranges from approximately 11 degrees C in the coldest months of June through September, to as high as 23 degrees in the warmer months of December through March. (Moore 1999)

Temperatures recorded from sites frequently visited by collector Pang Quong when observing seadragons in the wild, range from a low of 9 degrees C to 21 degrees C. His observations are similar to those recorded by the NTF (Quong 1999). Photoperiods in the areas where dragons are most commonly found are based upon the total time between sunrise and sunset. The photoperiods coincide with the water temperature with the shortest days occurring in June (~ 10 hours) and the longest in December (~ 14.5 hours) (Galbraith 2005).

Selection and Suitability

Leafy seadragons can be an expensive and difficult species to display and maintain. To date, the Leafy seadragon has not successfully reproduced in captivity. At the present time, availability of Leafy seadragons is limited to exchange between zoological institutions, or purchase from Pang Quong or an aquarium wholesale facility to which he sells captive raised leafy seadragons. Collection of Leafy seadragons from the wild has been limited to only a few individuals over the past decade. The Leafy seadragon is South Australia’s state marine emblem and is considered a fully protected species. (PIRA 2005). The young seadragons available from Pang are very small and have been raised from the eggs pregnant males he is permitted by the South Australia Government to collect from the wild each year. These animals are generally only available in the first few months of the year, and the number of animals available varies from year to year. Freight and import charges can be expensive.

Leafy seadragons have a very selective diet, requiring live or frozen mysid shrimp, or small, cultured or wild caught Penaeid shrimp. Acquiring the live wild caught mysid shrimp can be expensive, and culturing live mysid shrimp can be time consuming. Should the Leafy seadragon reproduce successfully, the young animals will require live foods until they can be weaned, which can increase the expense in maintaining a collection (Forsgren 2001).

In addition to their limited availability and expense involved in acquiring them, Leafy seadragons have limited compatibility with other fish and invertebrate species. Several zoological institutions have displayed Leafy seadragons with Weedy seadragons, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, and with Pot bellied seahorses, Hippocampus abdominalis . A number of invertebrates can be kept safely with seadragons, although problems have been reported with crabs that accidentally grow up from the mysid shrimp shipments.

Age, Growth and Reproduction

Juvenile Leafy SeaDragon. Photo courtesy of Stacina.

Juvenile Leafy SeaDragon. Photo courtesy of Stacina.

Little is known about the life history of the Leafy seadragon. It has only been since the late 1990s that there has been any success in maintaining this species long-term in an aquarium environment (Powell 1997). Scientific literature pertaining to the life history of seadragons is quite limited. In December 1985, Rudy Kuiter conducted a study on the growth rates of newly hatched Leafy seadragons for Australia’s national television station. In that study, the newly hatched dragons measured 35 mm in length. After 21 days in temperatures ranging from 17 degrees C to 21 degrees C, the juveniles attained a length of 85 mm (Kuiter 1988). A similar study was conducted by the staff at Underwater World Perth in late 1992, and early 1993. The growth rates were observed in a number of newly hatched juvenile Leafy seadragons for a period of ten weeks. During that study period the specimens in one of the rearing tanks was found to have a growth rate of approximately 9 mm per week at 18 degrees C (Mackay 1996). Pang Quong of PQ Aquatics reports that typically in the first 10-12 weeks the juvenile Leafy seadragons at his facility grow at a rate of approximately 10 mm per week (Quong 2005). Leafy seadragons mature at length greater than 20 cm usually around two years of age (Kuiter 1988).

An informal survey conducted by Charles Delbeek of the Waikiki Aquarium, Hawaii in 2004, polled members of the Aquatic info and Syngnathidae list serve groups as to the longevity of the Leafy seadragons in their collections. He recorded the results in a table and the incomplete results are listed below. From this anecdotal evidence, and the fact that facilities are, just within the past decade, able to keep Leafy seadragons long-term, the estimated life span of a Leafy seadragon is believed to be approximately ten years (Delbeek 2004). (See Table 1 below)

Table 1

Institution Years in Captivity Source Year Hatched

  • Long Beach –  8  Years in Captivity –  PQ
  • Shedd Aquarium –  8  Years in Captivity –     DWA/PQ –   1998
  • Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo  –  6  Years in Captivity –   DWA/PQ –   Dec. 1998
  • Toba Aquarium, Japan –  9  Years in Captivity –  Wild –  ?
  • Dallas World Aquarium  –  8  Years in Captivity –   Wild  –  Collected as adult 1996
  • Waikiki Aquarium  –  3  Years in Captivity –  PQ –  Jan. 2000
  • Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies –   3  Years in Captivity –     ?
  • New England Aquarium  –  5+  Years in Captivity –  DWA/PQ –   1997
  • Seattle Aquarium –  4+ DWA/PQ  –  1999

PQ = Pang Quong, PQ Aquatics DWA = Dallas World Aquarium DWA/PQ= Loan from DWA, originally raised by Pang Quong

Habitat Parameters

Providing the proper habitat to house Leafy seadragons is one of the most important elements in their husbandry. Key factors such as system design, water flow, temperature, and lighting are critical to the well being and long term health of the Leafy seadragon (Powell 1997).

System Design

The size of the aquarium housing Leafy seadragons is important in several ways. The length and width must be such that the animals have plenty of space in which to swim, without being crowded. Leafy seadragons can easily damage their slender snouts, if accidentally pushed by a tank mate or the current into the sides of the exhibit. In general, the Leafy seadragon also seems to prefer a deep aquarium as opposed to a shallow aquarium, which is also beneficial when displaying the fish in an exhibit with either live or artificial kelp. The depth of the aquarium can also aid the newly acclimated Leafy seadragon in regaining its buoyancy (Groves 1997). It is very common for the Leafy seadragon to experience buoyancy problems during or shortly after collection and transport. In many instances, this tendency to float at the surface can be corrected by the seadragon itself when placed in a deep tank. The inability to correct a buoyancy problem, can ultimately lead to the death of the animal.

Leafy seadragons have been displayed in a variety of exhibits with success in terms of their longevity. Most of the successful exhibits have been at least one meter or more in height and width. Recently, seadragons have also been displayed in cylindrical exhibits (Marshall 2004). Table 2 (See  Syngnathid Husbandry Manual) is an excerpt from a paper presented at the AZA National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1999 describing the size of the exhibit and relation to the observation of breeding behavior in Leafy seadragons. Since 1999, many of these institutions, as well as a number of others have experienced repeated egg production events, without successful transfer of eggs to the male. The reasons for these failures are still unknown. Exhibit design, especially tank depth may eventually prove to be a factor in successful breeding of Leafy seadragons (Powell 1999).

Holding or quarantine systems should be designed to accommodate the animals at various sizes, but especially when the animals are young and quite small.

Water Flow and Temperature

Depending on the size and volume of the exhibit or holding system, the flow should allow the entire volume of the aquarium to be turned over at least 4-6 times per hour. At The Dallas World Aquarium, we use two ¾ horse power spa pumps to circulate water through a reservoir (sump) and to the exhibit. Too little flow will result in a reduction of activity of the seadragon; too much flow can cause them to “fight” the current, potentially exposing the fish to undue stress as well as injury. In an effort to help prevent piping behavior at the surface of the aquarium, it is best to keep a little flow across the top to disrupt the “mirror” effect that can occur with a lack of flow at the surface (Delbeek 2005).

Water temperatures in the natural range of the Leafy seadragon range from 9 degrees C to 21 degrees C. Generally, seadragons are kept at temperatures between 12 degrees C and 18 degrees

C. A number of institutions have been varying their temperatures in order to initiate breeding (Forsgren 2004). A Universal Marine Titanium chiller is used for maintaining water temperature in the seadragon exhibit at The Dallas World Aquarium.


Filtration for Leafy seadragon displays can be achieved in a number of different ways. At The Dallas World Aquarium, our seadragon display and holdings are very simple closed systems. Synthetic seawater is made using the city water supply, filtered by reverse osmosis and Instant Ocean salt mix. Biological filtration is achieved using a “modified Berlin” method with live rock as the only biological filter. A large “ETS” style protein skimmer, Baker Hydro mechanical pool filter and Rainbow/Lifeguard UV sterilizer are used for water clarity. Super activated charcoal and Aquarium Pharmaceuticals phosphate remover are used as chemical filter media. Ozone use is not recommended on a Leafy seadragon exhibit.

Water Quality and System Maintenance

In order to ensure that Leafy seadragons remain healthy and disease free, excellent water quality is required. Frequent, small, water changes, with siphoning of the substrate, is recommended. These water changes should be done with a minimum of stress to the dragons, with little or no temperature or salinity change. Removing the dragons to siphon the exhibit is not recommended. Water quality parameters should not vary to any great degree. Below is a description of the acceptable parameters for water quality in the seadragon exhibit at The Dallas World Aquarium.

Salinity: 27 – 35 ppt Nitrate (NO3) < 5.0

pH: 8.0-8.3 Phosphate ( PO4): <0.05

Ammonia (NH3): 0.0 Calcium 250-400 ppm

Nitrite (NO2): 0.0

Lighting requirements

Seadragon in dimly lit display.

Seadragon in dimly lit display.

Lighting a Leafy seadragon display is one of the most important factors in successfully maintaining the collection. Sudden, dramatic changes in lighting are a source of stress to the Leafy seadragon. A variety of lights should be used so that the seadragons are exposed to a varying amount of light, gradually increasing throughout the day, and decreasing at night. Paul Groves, formerly of Underwater World, Perth Australia (Groves 1996), discourages the use of intense lighting normally used to light coral reef displays, as this is, in his opinion, too intense for the Leafy seadragon. At The Dallas World Aquarium we now use only one 250 watt metal halide light, and have not observed that this is a problem for the seadragons. One problem that does result from the use of metal halide lighting is the growth of filamentous algae, which can cause the seadragons to become entangled when feeding. The combination of metal halide and fluorescent actinic lighting is very effective for both display and husbandry purposes.

The use of a night light has also been important in the lighting requirements of the Leafy seadragon at The Dallas World Aquarium and many other institutions displaying seadragons. We use a small 20 watt fluorescent tube that is timed to come on just before the main exhibit lights go out for the day, and will go off, just as the main lighting is beginning to come on. We have observed that the seadragons tend to be attracted to external light sources outside of the exhibit and gather near the front of the aquarium when the “night light” is not on above them. They appear more settled, and will group together in a cluster when the light is in use.

Many institutions are varying their light cycles, naturally or intentionally, in order to help initiate breeding. In some instances, this variation coincides with the fluctuations in temperature to simulate the changes in sunlight and water temperatures in their natural environment (Forsgren 2004).


A long acclimation period is recommended when introducing new Leafy seadragons to their exhibit or holding system. Often, if transported from Australia, the fish have been in bags for more than 36 hours, and their water quality and water temperature may be drastically different from the aquarium into which they will be moved. It is not uncommon to have to overcome salinity differences of several points and temperature differences of several degrees.

At The Dallas World Aquarium, our normal acclimating procedure is to trickle water slowly into the transport bags from the exhibit through a small diameter airline tubing that can be “tied closed” to slow down the flow when the temperature, pH, or salinity differences are great. This procedure normally takes from one to three hours. The animals are not transferred into the exhibit until salinity, pH and temperature match exactly.

It is recommended that the “night light” be the only light on in the exhibit when the seadragons are transferred into it. The lights can be turned on gradually after the fish have had a chance to adjust to their new surroundings. The use of a net on the seadragons is discouraged, especially when removing them from the water during transfer into the aquarium. Use of a glass Pyrex bowl or a small bucket is recommended to avoid lifting the snout or gills of the seadragon from the water. It is best if the seadragon remains completely submerged during the transfer. The use of a bowl or bucket also reduces the risk of damage to the fish from getting tangled in the net by their leafy appendages.

In addition, it can be useful to cover the sides of the holding aquarium if it is an area frequented by aquarium staff. This allows the dragons to “settle in” and adjust to their new surroundings without becoming “spooked”.

Feeding and Nutrition

Perhaps the single most important factor in successfully keeping the Leafy seadragon in a controlled environment is the feeding routine. Leafy seadragons were originally believed to be difficult to feed, and prefer live food, specifically mysid shrimp. Obtaining sufficient shrimp to sustain a collection of seadragons, can be very expensive, and culturing them, in addition to the expense, can be very time consuming. At The Dallas World Aquarium, we have tried both methods. At present, we are receiving weekly shipments of 40,000 live Mysidopsis bahia, mysid shrimp. These are wild caught in Florida waters. In addition, we have the option to purchase live cultured mysid shrimp from a toxicology lab in the Dallas area. A backup source for the mysid shrimp is very important. The Leafy seadragon cannot go for extended periods of time without food. The adults on exhibit are fed thoroughly twice per week with the live mysid shrimp. The smaller, younger seadragons are fed mysids three times per week. Before each feeding, the mysid shrimp are fed Artemia sp., brine shrimp nauplii that have been soaked in a nutrient rich supplement known as SELCO for 24 hours. These normally warm water shrimp are then acclimated to the cold water of the exhibit.

Many institutions feed frozen mysis shrimp as the main food source (1-3 times per day) or as a supplemental food source for their dragons. Usually these are freshwater Mysis relicta, and are often readily accepted by seadragons, usually young dragons. It is best when planning to feed frozen mysis to offer it to the dragons when they are young (and large enough to eat the frozen mysis which can be quite large compared to live). Every institution tries a little something different in terms of feeding techniques, but the key in the beginning seems to be keeping the mysis suspended so that they look like they are swimming. Eventually, if the dragons accept the frozen mysis, they will learn to pick them up from the bottom.

It should be noted that Leafy seadragons successfully weaned onto frozen mysis shrimp can change their preference without notice. This change can happen for no apparent reason, and has been observed after moving young dragons from quarantine or holding areas the exhibit (Nero 2005). It is always best to have access to a supply of live mysids in the event the dragons choose to refuse the frozen variety.

Two sources for quality frozen Mysis relicta are Gamma frozen foods and Piscene Energetics.

Many institutions choose to culture live mysid shrimp to meet the needs of their seadragons. The Toledo Zoo has a successful program for culturing live mysid shrimp, and at one point was feeding their dragons exclusively cultured mysids.( Hemdal, 1999)

The Waikiki Aquarium reports that they feed their dragons live Penaid shrimp, Penaeus vandemai (Delbeek 2000).

Behavior and Breeding

The behavior of the Leafy seadragon is fascinating to watch and can be at times surprising. Normally thought of as slow moving animals, drifting in and out of the seaweed, Leafy seadragons are amazingly active. They spend most of their time moving between the blades of artificial kelp in the exhibit, and will occasionally “ride” the current in the aquarium, or “roll” upside down.

As feeding time approaches, the seadragons spend a large part of their time searching the bottom of the exhibit and in between the rocks for food. When cleaning the aquarium glass, or scrubbing the rocks, they often come near the scrub brush or pole and look curiously at it, most likely in the hopes that stirring up the gravel, or scrubbing the algae will uncover a previously undiscovered mysid shrimp. It can potentially be a dangerous curiosity, when cleaning the rocks or kelp could result in a slow moving dragon being trapped under a fallen rock.

Seadragons rarely display aggressive behavior, but in situations where there is a large number, or large-sized individuals in a small space, or where food availability is limited, Leafy seadragons have been observed “shoving” each other around in an effort to remove another individual from the area. This behavior can easily be confused with “dancing” which is described below.

Like other Syngnathids, the male seadragon is responsible for brooding the eggs. Unlike seahorses however, the male Leafy seadragon lacks a brood “pouch”, and the eggs are deposited in honeycomb-like indentions under his tail. These indentions develop at some point during the mating season, and will disappear at non-breeding times, making it very difficult to distinguish a male from a female Leafy seadragon. A female seadragon can deposit up to 250 eggs under her mates’ tail. The male will fertilize them and hold them for a period of up to eight weeks, at which time they will hatch over a period of a week (Kuiter 1988).

One of the most important issues facing public aquariums worldwide is the lack of information regarding the breeding behavior of seadragons. There has been no documented successful reproduction of seadragons in an aquarium environment. Previously, the inability of public institutions to maintain the animals long term has been certainly a contributing factor. Also, due to the difficulty and cost of obtaining the animals, institutions have not obtained large numbers of animals. They have also not experimented a great deal with these animals as they would with other less expensive and readily obtained fish. Another factor that may contribute to the lack of knowledge is that many institutions, with recently obtained animals, have juvenile specimens.

The gender of a seadragon can be difficult to identify, even in adults, but can be near impossible to distinguish in juveniles, making pairing difficult. In adult specimens, it is believed that the female has a deeper abdomen and thinner tail than males (Forsgren 2004). “Scute-like” structures on a female’s tail generally appear more pronounced than the male’s more rounded appearance. This difference is especially noticeable during breeding season when the male’s tail begins to swell to receive eggs. The Seattle Aquarium has been working on a research project that involves collecting fecal samples from juvenile Leafy seadragons and measuring the different hormone levels of these samples for differences based upon sex. It is undetermined whether this method will be a useful way of pairing dragons in the future (Whitney-Robinson 2003).

The behavior classified as “dancing” describes the side-by-side courtship display that is characterized by the dragons swimming in close contact and often in a circular pattern back and forth. This dancing also includes a frequently noted rise to the surface as a pair. Observations of dancing are common among public aquariums displaying dragons, with many of these institutions recording attempted egg transfer.

There have been only a few reports of successful transfer of eggs from female to male Leafy seadragons, and in each of these cases, the eggs have been dropped by the male soon after the transfer without any noticeable development of embryos. In contrast, the Weedy seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, has successfully reproduced on a number of occasions in public aquariums such as The Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, California and the Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, Tennessee (Forsgren 2004).

It is believed that Leafy seadragons may require a deeper column of water in order to successfully transfer the eggs. In addition, lighting and temperature may also play significant roles.

Disease Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment

During the past decade prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease in Leafy seadragons have been some of the greatest challenges in maintaining a successful collection of these animals.

Syngnathids are often sensitive to medications or dosages used to treat other marine teleosts, and often are not subject to the same type of parasitic infestations that commonly plague other marine fish. Prevention of a disease outbreak is the key, and holding the animals off exhibit for observation and quarantine is often the answer.

The Syngnathid Health Management Chapter of the Seahorse Husbandry Manual contains information that has been used by the Shedd Aquarium to quarantine and treat their syngnathid collection (Greenwell 2005). This chapter contains valuable information in terms of disease diagnosis and treatments.

The most common problems reported by institutions displaying Leafy seadragons are ciliated protozoan infestations such as Uronema spp., Mycobacterium spp. infections, and buoyancy problems related to stress, injury or disease. Infestations of internal parasites such as nematodes and trematodes have been less commonly reported, but do occur.

Good husbandry practices, adequate diet and minimal environmental stress such as temperature or lighting changes can help to prevent the problems described above.

In the event that a disease or parasitic outbreak is suspected, always consult with a veterinarian prior to administering any treatment.

Several institutions have reported success in treating ciliated protozoan infestations with formalin either in a long term bath or as a short dip. Generally the formalin is used in a lower dose than with most teleosts, and for a shorter duration. The Tennessee Aquarium uses formalin in a long term bath at 25 ppm. This is a 24 hour bath for 4-7 days with water changes between doses (Alford 2005). The Shedd Aquarium reports using formalin in a 10 minute dip at 200 ppm (Greenwell 2005).

In addition, hyper-salinity has been used to reduce problems with ciliates. The Tennessee Aquarium keeps the salinity in their seadragon systems at 36-39 ppt (Alford 2005).

Adequate UV sterilization and preventative antibiotic treatment may help in the prevention of Mycobacteria infections. The Dallas World Aquarium uses a mixture of rifampin and minocycline antibiotics on a quarterly basis as a food additive to help in the prevention of this disease. The antibiotic is added to a mixture of RO water and live Artemia nauplii. The nauplii are allowed to soak in the antibiotics for up to 20 minutes, the entire mixture is then poured into the container with live Mysidopsis bahia that are being acclimated to the colder system water. After approximately 30 minutes the mysid shrimp have become “gut loaded” with the medicated nauplii and are fed to the seadragons. The sudden onset of buoyancy related problems in Leafy seadragons can be caused by environmental stress such as aggression, lighting or temperature changes, or extensive breeding behavior. Additionally, intestinal blockages or disease can cause a seadragon to float abnormally at the surface, or sink to the bottom of the aquarium. Generally the problem occurs when the airbladder becomes over or under inflated.

Aquarium veterinarians and biologists have tried a number of different methods to treat these problems. Placing the dragon into a container and sinking it to the deepest part of the exhibit has been successful, on occasion, especially when the problem is due to a sudden stress such as lighting changes or stress during exhibit cleaning.

For suspected intestinal blockages, a low salinity bath (roughly 16 ppt for 10 min – 1 hr) can be used to help the seadragon pass a foreign object such as a rock, or a particularly large fecal mass.

If antibiotics or other medications are chosen to treat a buoyancy problem, the dragon can be weighed by removing it from the water and placing it on a scale directly, or by weighing the dragon in a container with water. (The dry method may be more accurate) (Gomezjurado 2005; Verdugo 2005).

If the buoyancy issue cannot be immediately resolved, a number of institutions report that they have been able to reverse the condition with the use of acetazolamide or ceftazidime via injection. Also, tapping the airbladder and removing the excess air, followed by treatment with an antibiotic such as ceftazidime is also recommended (Greenwell 2002; Verdugo 2005).

If a seadragon is not eating (which is often the case with the conditions mentioned above) tube feeding can be an effective way to keep it from becoming anorexic. A variety of tubing methods and formulas are used. Most institutions report using a mixture of frozen or live mysid shrimp, (or other fish meals) blended with a 2.5% dextrose solution and fed through the snout via a tube into the stomach. A small diameter catheter such as a cat catheter, or butterfly catheter works well. This method is best performed while gently holding the dragon’s snout underwater to reduce air intake into the gut. The length of the catheter should be measured prior to the feeding to ensure proper placement into the stomach, which is just past the bend of the neck. Depending on the size of the seadragon, small amounts of the gruel should be given (.02-.25 cc). This procedure can be used daily and can also be an effective way of introducing antibiotics or anti-parasitic medications (Robertson 2005).

The treatment of disease in Leafy seadragons is still very much a process of trial and error. With continued collaboration and communication between institutions displaying Leafy seadragons, the future looks promising.

Collection Management

Leafy Seadragons on display. Photo courtesy of OctopusHat.

Leafy Seadragons on display. Photo courtesy of OctopusHat.

Following, is a quote from Dr. Rod Connolly, Senior Lecturer in Marine Ecology, School of Environmental and Applied Sciences, Griffith University, Queensland Australia. Rod has been researching the behavior of Leafy seadragons in their natural environment for many years.

“Leafy seadragons are iconic in southern Australian waters, and are a flagship species of conservation programs and the creation of marine protected areas. Their conservation status is unknown because population trends have not been measured. Threats from human activities include incidental catch during commercial trawl fishing and the loss and degradation of habitat from pollution” (Connolly 2005).

Should public aquariums become successful in breeding Leafy seadragons, a collection management plan will become an important tool in future cooperative breeding efforts. It is important at this point that accurate, detailed records of acquisition be maintained. It is unknown if there is a large degree of genetic variation in wild Leafy seadragons due to their limited geographical range and mating habits. Since many institutions begin their collections with young of the year siblings, and collection of specimens from the wild is either entirely prohibited or extremely limited, exchange of adults from different year classes may be necessary in order to maintain genetic strength of captive species.

As aquarium scientists, we have an incredible opportunity to gather information and collaborate with other scientists working with Leafy seadragons around the world. This sharing of information will prove to be invaluable as we endeavor to ensure the survival of seadragon species both in their natural environment and in our aquarium collections.


Special thanks to the following individuals and institutions that contributed to the information contained in this document. Without their continued willingness to share their experiences, the information contained herein would not be possible.

Kristina Alford, Tennessee Aquarium; Steve Bailey, New England Aquarium; Ilze Berzins, D.V. M, Florida Aquarium; Rod Connolly, Griffith University; Charles Delbeek, Waikiki Aquarium; Kristy Forsgren formerly of Aquarium of the Pacific; Danny Galbraith, Geoscience Australia Earth Monitoring Group(GEM); Jorge Gomezjurado, National Aquarium in Baltimore; Martin  G. Greenwell D.V.M, formerly of the John G. Shedd Aquarium; Paul Groves formerly of Underwater World, Perth; Jay Hemdal, Toledo Zoo; Bruce Mackay, Underwater World, Singapore; Jeff Mitchell, John G. Shedd Aquarium; Jennifer Nero, Pittsburg Zoo and PPG Aquarium; Sean Putney, Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo; Pang Quong, PC Aquatics; Primary Industries and Resources South Australia (PIRA); Bill Roberston, Seattle Aquarium; Voronica Whitney-Robinson, formerly of the Seattle Aquarium; Jonelle Verdugo, Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Also thanks to the many members of the Syngnathidae and Aquaticinfo list serves who so generously share experiences with seadragons via e-mail allowing all of us to learn from each other. Because of the lack of published literature relating to Leafy seadragons, this document would not have been possible without this valuable resource.


Alford, K. 2005. Personal communication.

Connolly, R.M., Melville, A.J., Preston, K.M.. 2002. Patterns of Movement and Habitat Use by  Leafy Seadragons Tracked Ultrasonically.  Journal of Fish Biology 61:684-695.

Connolly, R. M. 2005. Personal communication.

Delbeek, J.C. 2000. Personal communication.

Delbeek, J.C. 2004. Personal communication.

Delbeek, J.C. 2005. Personal communication.

Forsgren, K. 2001 Personal communication.

Forsgren, K. 2004. Pyllopteryx taeiniolatus Chapter of Seahorse Husbandry in Public Aquaria.

Galbraith, D. 2005. Personal communication.

Gomezjurado, J. 2005. Personal communication.

Greenwell, 2002. Personal communication.

Greenwell, M. 2005. Syngnathid Health Management Chapter of Seahorse Husbandry in Public

Aquaria. Groves, P. 1996. Recent Advances in the Captive Husbandry of Seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus & Phycodurus eques) in press.

Groves, P. 1997. Personal communication.

Hemdal, 1999. Personal communication.

Kuiter, R. 1988. Birth of a Leafy Sea-Dragon. Australian Geographic. 12: 91-97.

Kuiter, R. 1988. Notes on Hatching and Raising of Seadragons. SeaScope. 5:1-3.

Mackay, B.1996. Seadragons in Wild and Captive Environments. Today’s Aquarist Vol. 7 No.  1: 5-9.

Moore, A.1999. The Leafy Seadragon. Unpublished.

Nero, J. 2005. Personal communication.

PIRA, 2005. Website, Primary Industries and Resources South Australia, Protected Species.

Powell, P. B. 1997. The Care and Husbandry of the Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques.

Proceedings of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Annual Conference: 440-446.

Powell, P. B. 1999. Update on Seadragon Reproduction Activity and Report on Feeding Regimens Among Public Institutions. Proceedings of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Annual Conference: 45-50.

Quong, P.1999. Personal communication.

Quong, P. 2002. Personal communication.

Quong, P. 2005. Personal communication.

Roberston, W. 2005. Personal communication.

Whitney-Robinson, V. 2003. Personal communication.

Verdugo, J. 2005. Personal communication.

10 Responses to “Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques”

  1. sophie Says:

    the leafy seadragon looks so beautiful and very enticing, what a very artistic creature and it is so cute. it just looks like sea weed from afar but only to realize when you look closely, it is a seadragon. i hope someday i can see a seadragon in my naked eyes to appreciate its beauty more.

  2. sydney Says:

    how amazing these creatures are. imagine how delicate and tiny but very beautiful. i must say this is something that we should take care of in our nature.

  3. julie Says:

    leafy sea dragon looks exactly like weeds, they are so beautiful! i wonder if we can keep them in an aquarium at home. but i know they are too expensive and very hard to maintain.

  4. Catherine Ramsey Says:

    Please include the full reference list. I would like to read some of the original articles.

  5. admin Says:
  6. wea Says:

    they are so beautiful and looks very peaceful. they look exactly like weeds. they are hardly noticeable unless you get very close to them.

  7. Nixon Le Says:

    they look so cute ,I would love to get them home ,is anyone here know where can I get them from,please?thanks alot!

  8. ismail ramli Says:

    yesterday it showed on tv of this unique leafy sea dragon and it really caught my attention about this fabulous creature.Can they be living in the malaysia waters,South China Sea maybe,and be reared ,placed in the national aquarium perhaps could draw large crowd .I really want to get in touch with MR PANG QUONG the father breeder of LSD(not Lucy in the sky with Diamond by Beatles).Can assist me ? Thank you P/S waiting for reply

  9. aira Says:

    seadragon sounds very interesting to me. there are so beautiful that it almost relieves stress just by simply staring at them. i wonder if will they ever live in an aquarium which is what i’m planning to do.

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