Common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Lacépède 1804)

Other Names: Common Sea Dragon, Common Sea-dragon, Lucas' Sea-dragon, Weedy Sea Dragon, Weedy Seadragon, Weedy Sea-dragon

A Common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, at Flinders, Western Port, Victoria, March 2007. Source: Sascha Schultz / License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial


The large and colourful Common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, occurs only in the southern half of Australia. This popular species has a long tubular snout and simple leaf-like appendages on the body that resemble kelp fronds. Although females are deeper-bodied than males, it is the males that brood the developing eggs - in a specialised area on the underside of their tail.

The Common Seadragon is the Marine State Emblem of Victoria.

The ARKive project has fantastic images and video footage of Common Seadragons feeding and swimming through their habitat, as well as males carrying eggs.

Stunning video footage of Common Seadragons from the BBC Life series

Video of courtship behaviour of Common Seagragons

Common Seadragons feeding at Flinders Pier, Western Port, Victoria

Video of an Australian Fur Seal playing with a Draughtboard shark and a Common Seadragon at Flinders Pier, Western Port, Victoria.

Common Seadragons (aka Weedy Sea Dragons) in Jervis Bay, New South Wales.

Common Seadragons in their natural habitat.

Take a look at Monterey Bay Aquarium's youtube clip  "Daddy" Weedy Sea Dragon has Babies!

Video of a Common Seadragon in New South Wales.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2016, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 02 Apr 2023,

Common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Lacépède 1804)

More Info


Endemic to temperate coastal waters of southern Australia, from about Newcastle (New South Wales) south to Actaeon Island (Tasmania) and across southern Australia to about Geraldton (Western Australia).

Common seadragons inhabit shallow estuaries to deeper offshore reefs, living seagrass beds and on rocky reefs covered in macroalgae, especially kelp beds, in depths of 1-50 m. Individuals usually remain within a broad home range.


Dorsal fin 27-34; Anal fin 4-5; Pectoral fin 20-23; Trunk rings 17; Tail rings 31-37; Subdorsal rings 1.75-0.25 + 5.00-7.00 = 6.00-8.00.

Body slender and elongate, slightly contorted, trunk deep in adults, body posterior to dorsal fin much shorter than that before dorsal fin; body encased in ring like bony plates, trunk with bilaterally paired, enlarged, flattened spines on dorsum of 11th ring, ventral margins of eighth or ninth rings, and small spine on dorsum of 17th; superior ridges of tail with about five, paired or unilateal, flat spines; flat, ovate, dermal flaps typically present on each enlarged head and body spine.

Superior trunk ridge (STR) and Superior tail ridge (STAR) discontinuous near rear of dorsal fin base; Inferior trunk ridge (ITR) and Inferior tail ridge (ITAR) discontinuous; Lateral trunk ridge (LTR)confluent with Lateral tail ridge (LTAR) and STAR; eggs brooded by males on open undersurface of tail just behind anal fin; tail prehensile. 

Head directed at slight angle to line of body; snout long (59-73% HL), slender (snout depth 7-14% snout length), compressed, with prominent recurved lateral spine; median dorsal snout ridge inconspicuous; opercles finely striate.  Scales and lateral line absent.

Single dorsal fin centrally on back, with moderately elongate base; anal fin very small, below front half of dorsal fin; caudal fin absent; pectoral fins small.

Sexually dimorphic - females have a deeper trunk compared with the males.


To 45cm.


Variable in colour - usually reddish-orange to purplish with fine yellow spots on head and body, especially dorsally, and bluish bars on sides of trunk and base of tail; tail often with three or four dark bars; oval-shaped dermal flaps variably dark throughout, with a pale median blotch or with narrow pale edges.


Carnivore - feeds on a range of tiny invertebrates, especially crustaceans such as mysids that are sucked in through the tubular snout. Seadragons are ambush predators, relying on camouflage and stealth to approach their unsuspecting prey.


Common Seadragons breed from June to January, with some males having two broods per season. Males brood and nourish up to 250 developing eggs in a specialised area on the underside of the tail. The gestation period is 30-38 days. Although some individuals mature after a year, most do not breed until their second summer.


Although Common Seadragons are of interest to the aquarium industry, they are difficult to breed in captivity and are difficult to raise.


  • EPBC Act 1999 : Listed Marine Species
  • IUCN Red List : Near Threatened

    Protected Species in NSW under Fisheries Management Act 1994.

    The Tasmanian Living Marine Resources Management Act 1995 prohibits the take of all syngnathids in Tasmania (by non-permit holders).

    Victorian Fisheries Act 1995: Protected Aquatic Biota.

  • Remarks

    A second species in the genus, the Ruby Seadragon, Phyllopteryx dewysea, was recently described from south-western Western Australia.

    Species Citation

    Syngnatus (sic) taeniolatus Lacepède, 1804, Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris 4: 211, pl. 58, fig. 3. Type locality: New Holland.


    Bray, D.J. 2016


    Australian Faunal Directory

    Common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Lacépède 1804)


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    Connolly, R. 2006. Phyllopteryx taeniolatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2006: e.T17177A6801911. Downloaded on 16 October 2016

    Dawson, C.E. 1985. Indo-Pacific Pipefishes (Red Sea to the Americas). Ocean Springs (Mississippi) : Gulf Coast Research Laboratory 230 pp. 293 figs pl. 1.

    Dawson, C.E. 1994. Family Syngnathidae. pp. 440-475 figs 391-426 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs.

    Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp.

    Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp.

    Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to sea fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp.

    Kuiter, R.H. 2000. Seahorses, Pipefishes and Their Relatives. Chorleywood, UK : TMC Publishing 240 pp.

    Kuiter, R.H. 2008. Syngnathidae. pp. 448-479 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

    Kuiter, R.H. 2009. Seahorses and their relatives. Seaford, Australia : Aquatic Photographics pp. 331.

    Lacepède, B.G. 1804. Mémoire sur plusieurs animaux de la Nouvelle Hollande dont la description n'a pas encore été publiée. Annales du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. Paris 4: 184-211 pls 55-58

    Martin-Smith, K.M. 2011. Photo-identification of individual weedy seadragons Phyllopteryx taeniolatus and its application in estimating population dynamics. Journal of Fish Biology 78: 1757–1768.

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

    McCoy, F. 1882. Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria. Decade 7. Melbourne : George Robertson Vol. 1 1-37 pls 61-70.

    Perry, G. 1810. Ichthyology. In, Arcana; or The Museum of Natural History. 2 unnumbered pages. 1 unnumbered plate. [1 May 1810]

    Pognoski, J.J., Pollard, D.A. & Paxton, J.R. 2002. Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. Canberra : Environment Australia 375 pp.

    Richardson, J. 1843. Report on the present state of the ichthyology of New Zealand. Report of the 12th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science 1842: 12-30

    Sanchez-Camara, J. & Booth, D. 2004. Movement, home range and site fidelity of the weedy seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Teleostei: Syngnathidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 70: 31-41.

    Sánchez-Camara J, Booth DJ, Murdoch J, Watts D, Turon X. 2006. Abundance, habitat use and behaviour of the weedy seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (Teleostei: Syngnathidae) around Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 137: 737-745.

    Sanchez-Camara, J., D.J. Booth & X. Turon. 2005. Reproductive cycle and growth of Phyllopteryx taeniolatus. Journal of Fish Biology 67: 133-148.

    Sanchez-Camara, J., Martin-Smith, K., Booth, D.J., Fritschi, J. & Turon, X. 2011. Demographics and vulnerability of a unique Australian fish, the weedy seadragon Phyllopteryx taeniolatus. Marine Ecology Progress Series 422: 253-264.

    Shaw, G. 1804. General Zoology or systematic natural history. Fishes. London : G. Kearsley Vol. 5 1-463 pls 1 (or 93)-182.

    Stiller J, Wilson NG, Rouse GW. 2015 A spectacular new species of seadragon (Syngnathidae). Royal Society open science 2: 140458. Open access at

    Whitley, G.P. 1931. Studies in Ichthyology No. 4. Records of the Australian Museum 18(3): 96-133 figs 1-2 pls 11-16

    Wilson, N.G., Stiller, J. & Rouse, G.W. 2016. Barriers to gene flow in common seadragons (Syngnathidae: Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). Conservation Genetics doi:10.1007/ s10592-10016-10881-y Open access

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37282002

    Biology:Males brood the eggs

    Conservation:EPBC Act Marine Listed; IUCN Near Threatened

    Depth:1-50 metres

    Habitat:Macroalgae, seagrass beds

    Max Size:45 cm TL


    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map