[Phylum: Chordata] [Class: Actinopterygii] [Order: Syngnathiformes (spiny)] [Family: Syngnathidae]
Despite being inefficient swimmers, sea dragons are actually fish that share many traits with their close relatives - the seahorse family.
This section contains factual information about the three types of sea dragon, including their behaviour, diet, and unique reproduction.
If there is one small marine creature recognised as having a body with the best ornate camouflage - it could be the leafy sea dragon.
Its delicate, leaf-shaped appendages cover their entire body and blend in flawlessly with the seaweed and kelp surroundings.
They also share several notable and visible features with the seahorse species (Hippocampus), including their 'bulky' shape, elongated snout, and fin placement.
However, unlike seahorses and pipehorses, sea dragons do not have a prehensile tail - an adapted 'limb' to grasp or manipulate objects.
Note: Another section explains more about seahorse characteristics and personality traits including how its unique reproductive behaviour fascinates most animal lovers.
The measurement from the snout to tip of the tail for most sea dragons is around 22 centimetres (9 inches). Even so, at full maturity common sea dragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) can reach a length of forty five centimetres (18 inches).
Because leafy sea dragons (Phycodurus eques) move slowly in the water, having near perfect camouflage helps to protect them from their predators (capture for the aquarium trade).
Despite being disguised as floating seaweed most of the time (e.g. brown, yellow, green), they also have an ability to change their natural colouring - usually determined by diet, location, stress level, and age.
The three known and identified varieties are still in existence. They are the smaller leafy sea dragon, the common species (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) also called 'weedy', and the ruby sea dragon (Phyllopteryx dewysea) found back in 2015.
The weedy species has the least amount of appendages. Thus, blending in with the surrounding environment can be a challenge for these marine species with less protection.
As a result, you will find this reddish and yellow coloured fish living on the ocean floor.
Ruby sea dragons tend to spend most of their time hidden in deeper water, where deep red colours are almost invisible.
There are only a few places in the world where you can find sea dragons in the wild (e.g. other than kept as a pet fish in an aquarium).
They live in shallow areas where their natural camouflage protects them the most - the seaweed beds and rocky kelp forests around south Australia and Tasmania.
Note: Seahorses, pipefish, pipehorses, and sea dragons are all poor swimmers. In general, they move through the water by drifting with the ocean currents.
Because they are carnivorous, they have also been known to eat small shrimps, fish larvae, and certain species of 'manageable' reef fishes.
Despite being lousy swimmers, they are very active hunters and refuse to wait for food to drift past them. Instead, they will suck small plankton out of the water column into their mouth - and with ferocious efficiency.
According to their scientific genus, they are a species of fish. But, they do not swim like most other fishes do (e.g. when they are feeding or escaping natural predators).
They often travel the ocean in pairs - appearing to be clumps of seaweed. Nonetheless, they also seem to be quite happy leading a solitary lifestyle by themselves with an average lifespan around five (5) years.
Most of the time they will drift freely with the natural movement of water using their 'leaf-like' pectoral and dorsal fins for propulsion. These appendages are extremely thin and almost transparent to the naked eye.
Most of the species also have tiny fins running along their backs and sides that they use for intricate manoeuvring.
The leafy and weedy sea dragons do not have a prehensile tail.
As a result, these two species have no mechanism for holding onto small branches with their tails.
But, the ruby sea dragon has a prehensile tail. Thus, they often choose to remain in different locations for lengthy periods.
Males will take on the role of courting receptive females when sea dragons mate. After establishing a breeding pair, the male assumes the responsibilities for childbearing.
But, unlike the male seahorse species, the male sea dragon has a spongy brood patch underneath its tail, instead of a pouch. The female will deposit bright-pink eggs inside the male's oxygenated brood patch during the mating ritual.
After fertilisation, males will incubate the eggs and then carry them to full term. Around six weeks later, they will release tiny baby sea dragons into the water column. A standard clutch size is around 250, and the new hatchlings will assume the role of caring for themselves.
Note: This short video [2:07 seconds] contains actual footage of real sea dragons and how they can drift freely in the water column.