Appreciate a Dragon!

From Europe to Asia, the dragon has deep mythological roots in many cultures. Usually depicted as a serpent-type animal that’s able to breathe fire, the image was enough to strike fear into the heart of societies for generations. At the New England Aquarium, however, we take a different approach to these mythical creatures!

Visit the Australian Temperate Reef exhibit on the second floor and look closely. Do you see them? They may not be breathing fire, but the Aquarium’s sea dragons are just as awe-inspiring as their mythical counterparts! With their leafy appendages and slow movements, they completely blend into their environment. And those long snouts are perfect for catching small plankton as it drifts by.

Many visitors comment the sea dragons resemble sea horses…and for good reason. They are close cousins, part of the family of fishes called Syngnathidae. And like their cousins, sea dragon males are responsible for most of the reproductive responsibilities.

Male sea dragons will take care of the eggs while they are incubating, just as male sea horses do. However, instead of holding the eggs in an abdominal pouch, sea dragons collect the eggs and keep them in a spongy brood patch near the base of their tale. And with the female laying 250 to 300 eggs, that’s a lot of little ones to worry about!

Photo of a weedy sea dragon with eggs taken by aquarist Jeremy Brodt while in Australia
Once ready to lay her eggs, the female will push the fertilized eggs into the soft skin of the male tail. The skin becomes hardened, forming a cup around each egg that secures it during incubation. After approximately six to eight weeks, the young sea dragons hatch a few at a time and float away to start life on their own! They do grow fast, reaching full size in approximately two years when they could potentially have young of their own. 

Look carefully-eggs on board this leafy sea dragon (Picture: J. Brodt, NEAq)

Only a handful of aquaria world-wide have been able to hatch sea dragons successfully, as it is extremely difficult to do. And while we haven’t had any young here yet, we do have great success showcasing our two species of sea dragons and have our fingers crossed that we may have some young in the future. Since today is Appreciate a Dragon Day…what better way to appreciate dragons than to come to the Aquarium and get inspired with these amazing, but not so mythical, creatures!


— Jo

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