weedy sea dragons

weedy sea dragons

The Subtle Beauty of the Weedy Sea Dragon

weedy sea dragons

The Weedy Sea Dragon is well-known for its majestic appearance and the ability to gently move through the water. You can easily lose sight of it when it decides to hide in its surroundings. This sea creature’s tricky nature adds to its overall appeal.

The Weedy Sea Dragon (scientifically called Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) is a very popular species (a close relative of the seahorse) that is found primarily just off the coast of southern Australia or in captivity in certain zoos in the US. They are unique animals that draw the attention of sea life enthusiasts worldwide.

They can make pets with caution, as a lot of work goes into the proper care of the Weedy Sea Dragon. They are also considered to be “Near Threatened” due to the difficulty of breeding in captivity and the low survival rate of the young in the wild. Because of this, private owners are encouraged to do more research about how to maintain and grow the current population. If you keep them your goal should be to breed them to maintain a back up population.
So, are you someone who wants a Weedy Sea Dragon? Are you up for the challenge, and interested in being able to help foster the continuation of this unique and fascinating type of sea horse? A good place to start is with some background.

What is a Weedy Sea Dragon?

weedy sea dragon
weedy sea dragon

Let’s start with the origin of the name. Sea Dragons, in general, were named after the dragons of Chinese legends. They are considered fish, but they don’t have a bony internal skeleton. Instead, they have an armored body protected by bony plates.

Weedy Sea Dragons are covered by leaf-like or moss-like appendages that decorate their bodies. They resemble seaweed and many times blend seamlessly with their underwater surroundings. They have curly tails, and they are slow swimmers, preferring instead to move in a swaying motion much like seaweed traveling along on ocean currents.

This ability is not accidental. It goes a long way in protecting the Weedy Sea Dragon from ocean predators. The camouflage they employ like armor is known as “mimicry” where the animal takes on chameleon-like traits to make themselves look “hidden in plain sight.”

In general Weedy Sea Dragons are known to live in rocky reefs, seaweed beds, seagrass meadows and really just about anywhere seaweed is found. They can sometimes be seen lurking in the shadows of pier or jetty pylons.
When they are seen it is a spectacular sight. They can often have amazing color patterns as well which include orange, red, yellow or even sometimes purple, depending on flora and fauna of their environment. They don’t just disappear, but they fit in. Like patterned wallpaper or the perfect divan, the Weedy Sea Dragon can add an air of completion to any seaweed colony.

Okay, so they’re pretty and fun to watch as they glide through the water. But what’s the big deal about them? Why are they becoming so rare?

There are 2 main reasons:

Feeding Problems of the Weedy Sea Dragon

Weedy Sea Dragons are unique in that they don’t have a digestive system. That seems like a weird thing for mother nature to have missed, but these little dragons make do by eating often and slowly. They eat by inhaling food through their snouts so everything must be the size of their snout or smaller.

Weedy Sea Dragons can range in size anywhere from 12 – 15 inches on average so they can usually be seen feeding on plankton, small shrimp and different types of malleable crustaceans. They’re not really known to be the fiercest of predators, but with their ability to blend in so well with their surroundings, catching unsuspecting prey ends up being an easy task.

However, as the intended prey adapts and get bigger and faster, it leaves the Weedy Sea Dragon at a disadvantage and often the animal has to go outside of its comfort zone to dine. This can be dangerous when your primary trait is blending in with familiar surroundings.

Breeding Sea Dragons is Difficult

weedy sea dragon courtship
weedy sea dragon courtship

Like seahorses, Weedy sea dragons are unusual because the male is the one to gestate and birth the babies. It is a task they take seriously and finding the appropriate partner is a must. The mating ritual between the two is long and involved, and at the end, the victor will deposit her eggs onto a sponge-like patch on the tail of the male Weedy Sea Dragon.

Gestation lasts about eight weeks or 2 months after which the eggs hatch and the baby dragons emerge. They are mostly independent and can take care of themselves, but they are still vulnerable to being eaten by all sorts of predators including penguins and fish.

Because of this, the mortality rate is at an astonishing 98% for the Weedy Sea Dragons born in the wild. Add this to the numbers that are accidentally rounded up in mass net fishing, or netted and used for medicinal purposes; you’ll see why their numbers are dropping fast.

To make matters tougher, for some reason breeding in captivity for these creatures can be difficult. To date, only a few Aquariums have been successful. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee along with the Melbourne Aquarium in Melbourne, Australia are among the very few that have successfully bred Sea Dragons in captivity.

The Weedy Sea Dragon, in particular, has been bred in captivity in Florida, Tennessee, and areas of Georgia as well as Australia. In fact, there is a protection act on the entire species in Australia.

It’s understandable if you try to look at it from their perspective. Being held captive in an unfamiliar environment could lead to them not being interested in breeding due to stress. The water, lighting, food or aquarium temperature might not be right. Additionally, the Weedy Sea Dragon is very picky. The courting process goes on for days, and the two paramours size each other up looking for true compatibility. This is hard to achieve and nearly impossible to fake in captivity unless there is a large breeding population.

newly hatched weedy sea dragon
newly hatched weedy sea dragon

In December of 2015, the captive breeding program at the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium was able to replicate the conditions of the wild. By making changes to the lighting, water temperature, and flow, they were able to encourage breeding between their captive dragons successfully. In March of 2016, 45 fry (baby sea dragons) were still going strong and represented a 95% survival rate!

The fry themselves are destined to be world travelers. With extensive notes and connections to aquariums throughout the United States, China, Europe and the UK, these timid creatures are about to get the cultural experience of a lifetime. With a life expectancy of about nine years, it’ll be a short life, but a full one.
Keeping it as a Pet?

Well, that’s great! You might think. Breeding is happening all over the world so now it’s time for me to get a tank.
And you know what? Maybe it is. With the right care and conditions, you can help keep the Weedy Sea Dragon, a quirky part of the deep sea community. Make sure you purchase from a reputable and legal dealer, and that you have the setup and time to provide the care the animal needs.

If you don’t want to keep them yourself, then perhaps instead, encourage your local aquarium to invest in a herd of these creatures. By showing interest and volunteering your time or even a monetary donation, you can help the research that ensures the safety and survival of these precious sea creatures.

Fancy guppy, platy, molly and swordtail pedigree types

fancy guppy delta tailed guppy

fancy guppy veiltail champion

Fancy guppies, platies, mollies and swordtails

All the four popular livebearers available in your local shop are pedigree varieties or cross breeds. You will not find wild type (fish found in the wild or resemble fish from the wild) livebearers for sale. These fancy livebearer fish have been developed over many years of selective breeding. They are usually mass produced from tropical fish farms from the far east and Florida.

Pedigree in livebearers is measured by how close a particular fish is to an ideal fish in terms of colour, pattern, body shape and fin shape.

The laws of genetics applies to livebearers as it does to all other animals. You would be wise to learn the basics of mendelian genetics. Mendel’s law means that if two parent fish of different colour breed then the young will not be a blend of the two colours. If a pure red guppy breeds with a pure blue guppy then the young will not be

fancy guppy female champion

purple. The young will be either all red or all blue depending on if red or blue is the dominant colour. However the other colour has not disappeared it is still there but hidden behind the dominant colour. His second law means that every gene is inherited from an individuals parents – half from the mother and half from the father. When reproduction takes place then these genes split apart and recombine with genes from the other fish in complicated but predictable ways.

Mendelian_inheritance

Livebearers are ideal fish for selective breeding

Basic livebearer breeding for beginners

More advanced breeding techniques

Of all livebearers the four main livebearers (guppies, platys, mollys and swordtails) and their close relatives are ideal fish for selective breeding because fish such as guppies do not breed true. Every guppy differs from its parents slightly. These slight deviations can be developed over the generations to create new fancy varieties. That is why they have proven so popular with breeders. The other livebearers breed true most of the time so take a lot of work to produce new fancy varieties.

Guppies and mollys are closely related and it is sometimes possible to interbreed them to obtain a feature from one species to the other to create a new variety. Likewise swordtails and platys are also closely related and can interbreed to create new varieties.

male and female fancy guppy mating
male and female fancy guppy mating

If you want to be successful in pedigree breeding always select parent fish that are healthy, are in their breeding prime in terms of age and do not have any genetic defects.

When buying pedigree stock great care must be taken when buying the female in particular. The female’s pedigree is not obvious and just because most females look alike does not mean that they do not carry pedigree genes because they do. Using any old female for breeding is likely to result in a mongrel brood which is pointless.

When breeding for pedigree then you must apply selective breeding techniques.

1. Choose the best male and female that most closely fits the pedigree profile you are after

breeding pair hi fin tuxedo swordtails
breeding pair hi fin tuxedo swordtails

2. Culling. This means you must kill off or dispose of young fish that do not match the pedigree profile.
However you must wait until the young fish are half grown before you can tell whether there is no chance of them becoming good pedigree specimens or not. Remove all fish that do not make the grade. Also it makes good sense to separate young males from young females to prevent unwanted breeding. But beware that some young males develop late and may look like females longer than other males. Keep an eye on this.
This separation of males from females allows you to grow the fish until they hit their prime and then picking the best two without the fear of unwanted pregnancies

Fancy guppy pedigree types

short round tail Moscow guppy
short round tail Moscow guppy

Pedigree guppies have a standard body length that excludes the tail fin of 1 inch which is 26mm. This is because of cross breeding with mollies to obtain black genes then crossing back.

The tail types are divided into short and long tail types.

Pedigree guppy tail fin shapes

Short tail types do occasionally occur naturally in the wild. The short tailed varieties are the round-tail, spear tail and spade tail.

The long tailed varieties do not occur in the wild but are the result of extensive line breeding to lengthen and shape the tail to a defined pedigree standard. The long tailed varieties are flag tail, veil tail, fan tail, delta tail, lyre tail, double sword tail, bottom sword tail, top sword tail and pin tail.

Snakeskin delta tail guppy
Snakeskin delta tail guppy

Pedigree guppy colours

After fin shapes, colour is another important factor in pedigree
Guppies are described with a basic background colour together with an overlay colour called cover. This technically refers to the different layers of pigmentation and other iridophores that refract colours in the guppies skin.

The base colours for guppies are

Grey This is the wild grey/olve green type colour
Albino This is the lack of black pigment cells. There is an albino version called the glass-belly that has no pigment at all and has the pink eyes.

gold coloured guppy
gold coloured guppy

Gold Yellow colour but when black pigmentation is present appears bronze
White This is formed from white pigment cells and the lack of other colour forming cells.
Blond This is a light yellow colour. They have dark eyes.
Silver This is when the shiny iridophores overlay white pigment cells.
Blue Guppies don’t have blue pigment cells. Blue is created by black pigment cells that are refracted through iridophore cells creating an iridescent blue. They lack the red and yellow pigment cells.
Cream
Pink
Lutino
fancy guppy pedigree colours

Cover colours and patterns are a secondary layer of colour that gives the guppy its final colouration. Patterns include leopard skin or snakeskin, while emerald is a cover colour.

black lyretail swordtail
black lyretail swordtail

Fancy swordtail pedigree types

There are 3 basic fin types in sword tails
1) Normal fins – as in the wild type
2) Tall fins – where the dorsal is larger than normal
3) Lyre finned – where the all fins have extended edges in a lyre shape. This sometimes results in a lyre shaped gonopodiumm that is so deformed that such a fish cannot mate.
Sword tails come in several ground colours but not as many as the guppy.

Sword tail ground colours include:

pineapple male swordtail
pineapple male swordtail

green
pink
gold
albino
blond
white
silver
cream
There are so far 3 cover colours in Swordtails: Black, red and orange. The orange covered fish are called pineapples.

The common swordtail varieties are:

berlin cross swordtail female
berlin cross swordtail female

Berlin cross swordtail.
This originated in Berlin. This is a red sword tail with a black spotted body. This variety does not breed true. You have to cross a red sword tail with a red sword tail with black spots. That is why it is called a cross.
Frankfurt cross swordtail.
Originated from Frankfurt. The front half of the fish is red while the rear half of the fish is black. This variety also does not breed true and has to be crossed from a red with a Frankfurt cross.
Hamburg cross swordtail.
Originated from Hamburg. Has yellow fins, black body with blue/green metallic scales on the sides.
Wiesbaden Cross swordtail.
The fish is black with shiny scales. The top of the fish and the bottom of the fish are either red or green.
Green swordtail.
This has a green body with a red zig-zag band on the side.

red lyre tailed sword tail
red lyre tailed sword tail

Red Swordtail.
Both the ground colour and the cover colour is red. This gives the fish a deep red colour. The red albino has no ground colour but does have a red covering colour. The resulting fish is red with red eyes and a red tail. But its colour is not as deep as the normal red sword tail.
Tuxedo sword tail
The body is two thirds matt black covering a red ground colour. The black extends over most but not all of the body. The back is usually red.
Wagtail sword tail
Red bodied fish with all black fins. There are white, orange and yelow bodied varieties but all must have black fins.

Fancy platy pedigree groups

There are two basic species of platy that are closely related and over the years they have been interbred.
The maculatus platy is deeper bodied than the variatus platy. The maculatus platy comes from warmer waters than its close relative. The variatus platy grows more slowly than the maculatus platy. Most varieties have been developed from the maculatus platy with interbreeding to bring the varieties over to the variatus platy.

sunshine platy variatus
sunshine platy variatus

Fancy platy fins.

The point at which the body and tail meet should be a nice gentle curve and angle will be penalised by judges.
Most platys have tall dorsal fins that are square or flag shaped. Some platys have a brush like tail that is similar to the spear point tail in guppies.

The ground colours for platys are green,red and albino

The cover colours for platies are red, blue, marigold and black.

Well known platy varieties are:

comet platy = where the upper and lower edges of the tail fin are black.
2 spot platy = where the base of the tail has two dark spots. One above and one below.

mickey mouse platy
mickey mouse platy

Half moon platy = Where the base of the tail has a black crescent band.
Moon platy – where there is one large rounnd spot at the base of the tail.
Salt and pepper = Where the base colour(white) is dotted over with black dots all over.
Blue mirror platy = This variety has a green/grey base colour overlaid with shiny blue scales on the sides.
Coral platy = This variety is foreshortened so looks chubby. This variety is deep red.
Bleeding heart platy = This variety has a blond ground colour with a red patch on its breast and red bands coming up from the red patch.
Tuxedo platy = The body is two thirds matt black
Wagtail platy = Red bodied fish with all black fins.

Variatus platy colours

The only ground colour is green/grey
Sunset platy = This variety has bluish sides, yellow dorsal and red tail.

Hawaii platy variatus
Hawaii platy variatus

Hawaii platy = Matt black body with a yellow dorsal fin and a red tail fin.
Marigold platy = This variety has a yellow back and yellow dorsal fin. The lower half of the fish is orange as well as the tail being orange.

Fancy molly pedigree types

There are two closely related molly species in the hobby. The normal molly and the sailfin molly. Over the years they have been occasionally interbred in an attempt to create new varieties or improve existing varieties of molly. The normal molly has a small dorsal. Other fin types for the molly include a tall dorsal fin type, a veiltail fin type and a lyretail fin type. Note that some males with fancy fins have difficulty breeding because the gonopodium (being a fin) is also affected. So the male cannot fertilise his female.

female dalmation molly
female dalmation molly

The main colours for mollys are

Black, white, and green

The main molly pedigree types are:

Midnight molly = black body with a red dorsal fin
Albino mollys are common
White molly = silver white body and fins
Piebald molly = white molly with black dots all over
Golden molly = golden yellow molly. Some golden mollys have are overlaid in marbled black.
Liberty molly = blue sides and red edged fins .

Rare Tropical Marine Fish Found in Massachusetts