Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques (Günther 1865)

Other Names: Glauert's Sea-dragon, Leafy Sea-dragon
Leafy Seadragon with a parasitic isopod - Rapid Bay, South Australia

Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques, with a parasitic isopod - Rapid Bay, South Australia. Source: Graham Short. License: All rights reserved


The spectacular Leafy Seadragon with its elaborate leaf-like appendages and amazing colour pattern is superbly camouflaged amongst kelp and other macroalgae. Eggs laid by the female are brooded by her male partner in a specialised region on the underside of his tail.

DID YOU KNOW? The Leafy Seadragon is protected throughout its range in Australia, and is the marine emblem for South Australia.

Spectacular video of Leafy Sea Dragons at Rapid Bay Jetty in South Australia. Filmed and produced by Migration Media.

Beautiful video of a Leafy Sea Dragon

Leafy Seadragons at Rapid Bay Jetty, South Australia

The ARKive project has spectacular images and video footage of Leafy Seadragons feeding and swimming through their habitat, as well as tiny seadragons hatching from eggs carried by the male.

Leafy Seadragons in Gulf St Vincent, off the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2018, Phycodurus eques in Fishes of Australia, accessed 24 May 2019, http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3126

Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques (Günther 1865)

More Info


Endemic to temperate waters of southern Australia, from about Victor Harbour, South Australia, westwards Yanchep Beach, Western Australia, including Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Victorian records have not been verified.

Leafy Seadragons usually inhabit sheltered bays where they are found in seagrass beds especially (Posidonia), and around rocky reefs amongst kelp (Ecklonia) and other macroalgae, at depths of 4-50 metres.


Dorsal-fin rays 34-38; Anal-fin rays 4; Pectoral-fin rays 19-21; Trunk rings 18; Tail rings 41-44; Subdorsal rings 0.50-0.00 + 10.75-12.50 = 11.25-13.00

Body long, slender, contorted, trunk deep in adults; head at right angle to body, snout long. Head and body encased in ring-like bony plates, with elaborate ornamentation of long spines and large leaf-like appendages.


To 35cm total length.


Leafy Seadragons are greenish to yellowish or brownish-yellow with many thin dark-edged pale lines crossing their sides. They closely resemble kelp or macroalgae.


Carnivore - feeds on small invertebrates, such as mysids and other tiny crustaceans. Seahorses, pipefishes and seadragons feed by sucking prey items in through the long, tubular snout.


The sexes are separate and fertilisation is external. Leafy Seadragons congregate in late winter to form monogamous pairs. Spawning usually occurs during summer, and females deposit their eggs onto a specialised area of spongy tissue on the exposed underside of the male's tail. The eggs become partially embedded in this tissue during embyronic development. After an incubation period of 6-8 weeks, males often migrate to deeper waters (to about 25 m) before the young hatch. The brood hatches over a period of 6-7 days, during which time the male disperses his offspring over a wide area.

Males may care for two broods per season, and incubate 250-300 pear-shaped eggs measuring 4x7mm per brood. Newly hatched young are well developed, very slender and 30-35mm long. They have a small yolk sac, a smaller head and shorter snout than the adults, and the body rings and ridges are indistinct, only becoming visible when the body spines grow. At hatching, the dermal appendages are relatively small, becoming longer and more elaborate with growth.

Juveniles inhabit shallow sheltered waters in association with sand, weed, and rubble in 5-7 m, and are sometimes seen in small aggregations. They feed on tiny mysids and usually grow rapidly during the first few months to almost half the adult size.


Although this charismatic species is eagerly sought by aquarists both in Australia and overseas, Leafy Seadragons are reportedly very difficult to keep in captivity. Wild caught individuals and juveniles born to wild caught males are subsequently reared and sold in Australia and exported overseas for the aquarium trade. The Leafy Seadragon is occasionally taken as bycatch in commercial trawl fisheries.


  • EPBC Act 1999 : Listed Marine Species
  • IUCN Red List : Near Threatened 
  • CITES Listed
  • The species is also protected throughout its range by South Australian and Western Australian Government legislation.


    With their colour pattern and frond-like appendages, Leafy Seadragons are remarkably well camouflaged to resemble macroalgae. They also rock back and forth with the wave action looking even more like kelp fronds.

    Similar Species

    The Common Seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) is reddish in colour, has simple unbranched appendages, and lacks the long body spines of the Leafy Seadragon. The two species are rarely found together.


    Phycodurus is from the Latin phyko for seaweed, and oura meaning tail. The species name eques, is from the Latin equus, meaning horse.

    Species Citation

    Phyllopteryx eques Günther 1865, Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond.: 327, pl. 15. Type locality: Port Lincoln, South Australia.


    Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2018

    Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques (Günther 1865)


    Baker, J., H. Crawford, D. Muirhead, J. Manna, L. Baade and R. Velzeboer. 2014. Marine species of conservation interest on northern Kangaroo Island - results of 2013 field work Part 2: Marine Fishes. Report for: Kangaroo Island NRM Board Coast and Marine Program, and S.A. Department for Environment, Water & Natural Resources (September 2014 update of December 2013 report) 47pp.

    Connolly, R. 2006. Phycodurus eques. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. http://www.iucnredlist.org/.

    Connolly, R.M., A.J. Melville & J.K. Keesing. 2002. Abundance, movement and identification of individual leafy sea dragons, Phycodurus eques (Pisces: Syngnathidae). Mar. Freshw. Res. 53: 777-780.

    Connolly, R.M., Melville, A.J. & Preston, K. 2002. Patterns of movement and habitat use by leafy seadragons tracked ultrasonically. Journal of Fish Biology 61: 684–695.

    Dawson, C.E. 1994. Family Syngnathidae (pp. 441-474). In Gomon M.F., C.J.M. Glover & R.H. Kuiter (eds.) The fishes of Australia's south coast. State Print, Adelaide, 992 pp.

    Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2008). Phycodurus eques in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat.

    Hoese, D.F., D.J. Bray, J.R. Paxton & G.R. Allen. 2006. Fishes. In Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. (eds.) Zoological catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia, 2178 pp.

    Günther, A. 1865. On the pipe-fishes belonging to the genus Phyllopteryx. Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. 1865: 327-328, pls. 15-16.

    Kuiter, R.H. 1988. Birth of a Leafy Sea-dragon. J. Aust. Geogr. Soc. 12: 91-97.

    Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland Press, Sydney, 433 pp.

    Kuiter, R.H. 2000. Coastal Fishes of Southeastern Australia. Gary Allen, Sydney, Australia.

    Kuiter, R.H. 2008. Syngnathidae, pp. 448-480. In Gomon, M.F, D.J. Bray & R.H. Kuiter (eds.) Fishes of Australia’s Southern Coast. New Holland Publishers, Australia: 1-928.

    Kuiter, R. H. 2009. Seahorses and their relatives. Aquatic Photographics, Seaford, Australia. 333 pp.

    Martin-Smith, K.M. & A.C.J. Vincent. 2006. Exploitation and trade of Australian seahorses, pipehorses, sea dragons and pipefishes (Family Syngnathidae). Oryx 40(2): 141-151.

    McGlone, P. 1994. Export ban needed to protect seadragons, seahorses and pipefishes. Wildlife News No. 68, World Wide Fund for Nature.

    Neira, F.J., A.G. Miskiewicz & T. Trnski (eds.) 1998. Larvae of temperate Australian fishes, laboratory guide for larval fish identification. University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, WA.

    Pogonoski, J.J., D.A. Pollard & J.R. Paxton. 2002. Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. Environment Australia, Canberra. 375 pp. Available online at: http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/publications/marine-fish-action/index.html

    Wilson, N.G. & Rouse, G.W. 2010. Convergent camouflage and the non-monophyly of ‘seadragons’ (Syngnathidae: Teleostei): suggestions for a revised taxonomy of syngnathids. Zoologica Scripta 39: 551–558.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37282001

    Biology:Males brood the eggs

    Conservation:EPBC Act - Marine Listed

    Conservation:IUCN Near Threatened; CITES listed

    Depth:4-50 m

    Habitat:Reef associated

    Max Size:35 cm TL


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