“Dragons live in Minnesota”

Who said that dragons are only mythical creatures of old?

Rare endangered Weedy Sea Dragons are alive and well at a Discovery Bay exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo. Phyllopteryx taeniolatus is a marine fish related to the seahorse that swims in shallow reefs and weed beds, and resemble drifting weed when moving over bare sand. 

The seaweed-like projections on their bodies that camouflage them as they move among the seaweed beds where they are usually found.
Weedy Sea Dragons can reach 45 cm in length. In the wild they can travel long distances and find their way back to their home grounds.

They feed on tiny crustaceans, shrimp and other zooplankton, from places such as crevices in reef, which are sucked into the end of their long tube-like snout. They lack a prehensile tail that other sea dragons possess that enables similar species to clasp and anchor themselves.

Male Weedy Sea Dragons – a dedicated father who cares for their eggs.

The female produces up to 250 bright pink eggs, then attaches them through a long tube to the male’s tail. The eggs then attach themselves to a brood patch, which supplies them with oxygen. Then depending on water conditions, the bright pink eggs turn a ripe purple or orange over a nine week period. Then the male pumps its tail until the infants emerge from the brood patch, a process which takes place over 24-48 hours. The male aids in the babies hatching by shaking his tail, and rubbing it against seaweed and rocks

Mysids are food for new dragons

Once born, the infant sea dragon is completely independent, eating small zooplankton until large enough to hunt tiny shrimp called mysids. Few of the young survive usually only about 5% of the eggs survive. Leafy sea dragons take about 28 months to reach sexual maturity.

Perfect camouflage

The Weedy Sea Dragon is found only in the seaweed and rock  bed waters 3 to 50 meters deep off the southern coastline of Australia, between Port Stephens, New South Wales and Geraldton, Western Australia, as well as around Tasmania.

These beautiful, very fragile creatures are unstable outside their natural habitat. These endangered Leafy Sea Dragons are highly regulated after their population numbers have plummeted due to water pollution, large numbers taken in the past for Chinese medicine, aquariums, collectors and naturally because they are  slow swimmers when first hatched and are frequently washed ashore after storms.

Resources

Excerpts courtesy of  http://www.twincities.com

Excerpts courtesy of  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafy_sea_dragon

Image 1. courtesy of    http://img3.travelblog.org/Leafy-sea-dragon-3.jpg

Image 2. courtesy of  http://www.cmarz.org/species_pages/phyla/mysid.jpg

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