The Magic of the Leafy Seadragon
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A few years back my boyfriend surprised me on my birthday with my first trip to the California Academy of Sciences. It was the first time that I ever saw a leafy seadragon and it immediately became my very favorite creature of the sea. I’ve since been back to that great California science museum many times and I’ve also been to see leafy seadragons at other California aquariums. Their magic never diminishes for me.
It’s a plant, it’s an animal …
The first thing that captured my interest about this strange creature is that it looks like a plant. Really. It’s got these leaf shaped limbs that float magically around it as it moves. It absolutely doesn’t look like a real thing. It looks like a fantasy creature created for a kids’ movie. It looks like something drawn into the illustration of a wonderful book. It absolutely doesn’t look like an animal … it looks like a really cool plant that doesn’t have to be attached to anything and just moves around on its own.
Then you see that it’s an animal and there’s this whole new level of magic when you realize that it’s such a stunning example of camouflage. The leaves of the animal blend with the plant life in the water around it. I’m always impressed by animals that can camouflage themselves in any way and this is no exception. I’m a three year old when it comes to how much the magic of this amazes me.
When you get a chance to look up close at a leafy seadragon you can see that it moves in the same fascinating way that the sea horse moves, which makes sense since they’re from the same family of creatures. If you’ve never had a chance to look up close at a sea horse you should find a way to do so because it’s really cool the way that they bob vertically up and down thanks to these strange little propeller fins that they have on their backs. The leafy sea dragon has those same fins, one on the neck and one on the back. They’re these tiny little things that move super rapidly and allow the animal to move. It doesn’t look like it should be possible and that is what makes it so magical to watch.
Some fascinating facts
I decided to do some brief research into the leafy sea dragon using the wonders of the web and here are some of the things that I learned:
- This animal is only found off of the coasts of Australia. This gives me yet another reason to want to visit Australia! In fact, the leafy sea dragon is important to South Australia and is a focus of marine life conservation there. The locals call them “leafies”. They even have a Leafy Sea Dragon Festival there.
- The leafy sea dragon is actually also able to change color to further camouflage itself. I didn’t know this (since I’ve only ever seen them in the same small tanks in aquariums where they wouldn’t need to do that) and it just adds to my fascination with them.
- The leafy seadragon has three cool family members. First, there’s the seahorse which most people are familiar with. Then there’s the weedy sea dragon, which looks a lot like the leafy seadragon but is smaller and has slightly different “leaves”. (I’m pretty sure I saw weedy seadragons at the aquarium in Monterey.) And then there’s the pipefish, a weird long skinny fish with a super long snout. The leafy seadragon has that same snout. It’s another aspect of the animal that just doesn’t seem similar to other creatures and that makes it seem so interesting.
- The males take care of the eggs. This is something that’s true of seahorses as well and it’s always an interesting thing when species do this since it’s so rare.
The leafy seadragon gets its name from two things – the fact that it’s leafy and the fact that it looks like a dragon. It’s the combination of these two things that make it seem like a completely fictional creature and I love the fact that it’s not.