Leafy Sea Dragon

Phycodurus eques - habitat, range, life cycle, dive sites
By Scott Gietler

The Leafy Sea Dragon, Phycodurus eques, is one of the most beautiful fish in the world. Seeing one underwater is an amazing experience, you can watch these fish for hours while diving underwater. Leafy sea dragons are in the family Syngnathidae, which also includes seahorses and pipefish, and its close relative the Weedy sea dragon.


leafy sea dragon

Leafy sea dragon photo, Adelaide

Leafy Sea Dragon Habitat and Range


Leafy sea dragons are found on the shores of southern Australia, usually between Adelaide and Perth, hiding in seaweed, also known as brown kelp. They are not found east of Melbourne, and sightings around Melbourne are very rare. They are usually somewhat in the open, so if you are near them they are not too difficult to spot. They are most commonly found in water 4-15 meters deep, but have been found deeper. The water temperature is 19 Celsius in the summer, 14 in the winter.  The close relative of the leafy sea dragon, the Weedy sea dragon, is found more around Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania - especially Sydney.


Leafy Sea Dragon Dive Sites


Unfortunately sometimes poachers and licensed collectors will remove Leafies from dive sites.

  • Rapid Bay Jetty

  • Edithburgh Jetty

  • Wool Bay Jetty

  • Kangaroo Island

  • "The Bluff" at Victor Harbour

  • Other places along the southern coast between Adelaide and Perth


Leafy Sea Dragon Photos 

leafy sea dragon
Leafy Sea Dragon male carrying eggs, found near Adelaide, Australia on a shore dive in 9m of water.


leafy sea dragon photo Leafy sea dragon and diver. F11, 1/80th, ISO 400, Tokina 10-17mm 


Leafy Sea Dragon Photography Tips


  • Leafy Sea Dragons are large, they can be over 30cm. Use a wide-angle lens or mid-range lens for photos of the entire fish

  • Do not harass the fish, touch them, or try to move them up in the water column, they have a sensitive swim bladder and are easily injured.

  • They have a limited home range (10x10 meters), so don't chase them or swim them out of their region or this can stress them out.

  • Take only a few photos and then give them time to relax, after 2-3 minutes give them a 15 minute break or they will swim erratically due to stress

  • Do not harass males with eggs as they may drop the eggs

  • Get Low with your camera and shoot at an upwards angle

  • Use a local guide to maximize your chance of finding a leafy. Sea dragons can be difficult to find.

  • Take your time - they love posing for your underwater camera, and are very photogenic!


Leafy Sea Dragon facts and life cycle


Males carry up to 250 eggs during the Australian summer. Males with eggs are often seen by divers in November and December. Females deposit eggs on the male's body (there is no pouch), and they hatch after 7-8 weeks according to the "Vanishing Dragon" film. They reach full size after 2 years, and probably live up to 10 years long.


Leafy sea dragons feed on mysid, plankton and other small crustaceans. Their camouflage is some of the best in the animal kingdom. Leafy Sea Dragons will sometimes have Isopods attached to them, which are parasites. The leafies that I saw were active during the day, so they are definitely not nocturnal.


Leafy sea dragons were previously heavily over-collected, but are now protected. Still, licensed collectors sometimes remove subjects from dive sites.  Leafy sea dragons are the official marine emblem of South Australia.




Other Marine Life Articles


leafy sea dragon photo

Leafy Sea Dragon
Scott Gietler
Phycodurus eques - habitat, range, life cycle, dive sites


Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel, and the Underwater Photography Guide. Bluewater Photo, based in Culver City, CA is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious underwater camera stores, serving many thousands of customers each year, where nothing is more important than customer service. The Underwater Photography Guide is the world’s first website to feature free tutorials on underwater photography, and has become the most trafficked resource on underwater photography worldwide. Bluewater Travel is a full-service dive travel wholesaler sending groups and individuals on the world’s best dive vacations. 

Scott is also an avid diver, underwater photographer, and budding marine biologist, having created the online guide to the underwater flora and fauna of Southern California. He is the past vice-president of the Los Angeles Underwater Photographic Society, has volunteered extensively at the Santa Monica aquarium, and is the creator of the Ocean Art underwater photo competition, one of the largest underwater international photo competitions ever held in terms of value of prizes. He lives in California with his wife, newborn girl and scuba-diving, photo taking 4 year old son.

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