Male leafy seadragons show first sign of maturity at S.E.A. Aquarium

We have good news from the S.E.A. Aquarium. Our two male leafy seadragons are showing signs of maturity, which brings us one step closer to being able to successfully breed this species.

At the aquarium we have two male and two female leafy seadragons. Since July, the female leafy seadragons have been producing eggs. For the eggs to be fertilised they must be transferred to the male’s tails where they will be reared until hatching. Our Aquarist team have remained vigilant looking for signs that the males are mature and ready to receive the eggs.

Our male and female leafy seadragons have been displaying courtship behaviour. However, until recently we have not seen any physical changes in the males to indicate that they are ready to receive eggs from the females.

When male leafy seadragons reach maturity, their tails get swollen and turn pink and red during specific breeding times. This has finally happened to the male leafy seadragons at S.E.A. Aquarium.

Now that male leafy seadragons have shown indications of maturity, it’s a great sign that they may now breed.

To date, all attempts made worldwide to breed leafy seadragons under human care have been unsuccessful. We are excited to share this news as we are one step closer to achieving this goal.

Why is breeding leafy seadragons important?

The tail of the male leafy sea dragon swells and changes colour when they are ready to receive eggs from the female.
The tail of the male leafy seadragon swells and changes colour when they are ready to receive eggs from the female.

Only found in Southern Australia, leafy seadragons live on rocky reefs which are under threat from human activities such as pollution and fertilizer run off. They are also accidentally killed whilst trawling during commercial fishing.

Leafy seadragons are listed as Near Threatened (NT) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Concerned by the rapidly decreasing numbers of leafy seadragons, the Australian government has listed the animals as a protected species in Australia. This has made it illegal to collect leafy seadragons from the wild.

Leafy seadragons are currently displayed in a number of facilities around the world. Teams of specialists are working hard to mimic the conditions found in the natural environment in the hope of successfully breeding this species.

What are leafy seadragons?

The tail of the male leafy sea dragon before reaching maturity.
The tail of the male leafy seadragon before reaching maturity.

Leafy seadragons (Phycodurus eques) belong to the same family as seahorses and pipefishes- the Syngnathids.

With leaf-like lobes of skin distributed around their body they represent one of the most spectacular examples of camouflage.

Instead of having internal bones for support they have a long semi-flexible body covered with bony plates and rings. With tube-like mouths they feed on small shrimp-like animals and other crustaceans.

Leafy seadragons are found in the cool waters of Southern Australia where they inhabit sandy patches close to rocky reefs.

How do leafy seadragons reproduce?

Female leafy sea dragons will produce 200-350 eggs which must be transferred to the male to be fertilised.
Female leafy sea ragons will produce 200-350 eggs which must be transferred to the male to be fertilised.

Male and female leafy seadragons will engage in courtship behaviour before mating.

Females will produce between 200-350 eggs which must be transferred to the male. When the male is ready to receive eggs the tail will appear red and swollen.
As with seahorses, the males will care for the eggs and give birth to fully developed young.  The male will receive the eggs onto a special ‘brood patch’ on the underside of their tail.

The brood patch consists of blood rich tissue which holds each egg and supplies them with oxygen. Once the eggs are attached to the male they will be fertilized.

After 6-8 weeks the male will ‘give birth’ to fully developed miniature seadragons.

Male sea dragon S.E.A. Aquarium

Come down to the S.E.A. Aquarium for this rare sighting of mature male leafy seadragons.

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