When Dragons Disappear

“WHEN I had approached to within three feet, the dragon’s behavior changed abruptly,” relates David Hall in Ocean Realm magazine. “It stopped feeding and turned away, melting into the nearby kelp and presenting me with a very professional disappearing act.” He marveled: “This animal had serious camouflage.” In that encounter, Hall was privileged to witness one of nature’s most impressive examples of underwater camouflage​—Australia’s leafy sea dragon.

Leafy sea dragons are slow moving and rely heavily on camouflage to avoid hungry predator fish. Their yellow-green body striping and bizarre array of leafy appendages allow them to blend almost invisibly into their sea grass surroundings. They even swim in a rhythmic, rocking motion, perfectly mimicking the movement of drifting seaweed.

This sophisticated camouflage allows them to sneak up on their favorite food, tiny mysid shrimps. “Their deception is so good that the shrimps don’t see them as a threat,” says one observer. The sea dragon simply gobbles up shrimps as it swims along, quickly sucking them into its long snout and swallowing them whole. These brief hunting expeditions are punctuated with long periods​—up to three days in length—​when the sea dragon is content to remain stationary, catching any prey that passes by.

Leafy sea dragons can be found only in the shallow waters along Australia’s southern coastline. Their serpentine bodies and leafy streamers resemble festive Chinese dragons, after which they are named. Growing to as much as 17 inches [43 cm] in length, they are larger members of the family of fish that includes sea horses.

When it comes to giving birth, male and female sea dragons swap roles. Yes, the male becomes pregnant and delivers the babies! As spring approaches, the prospective father develops a blood-rich brood patch of about 120 small pits, or egg cups, along his tail. The female sea dragon then transfers her bright-pink eggs to this brood patch, embedding each egg into its own individual cup. Four to six weeks later, the three-quarters-of-an-inch-long [20-millimeter-long] baby sea dragons are born, each one a tiny replica of its parents.

Truly, these delightful creatures are yet another example of Jehovah God’s creative genius and artistry!​—Psalm 104:24, 25.

 [Pictures on page 25]

A pregnant male leafy sea dragon carrying eggs; inset shows close-up of the brood patch

[Pictures on page 25]

Camouflaged leafy sea dragon; inset highlights the animal

[Picture Credit Line on page 25]

All photos except brood patch: Michael Morris-Immersedimagery@scubadiving.com