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The Sea Dragon: What is it?

The Sea Dragon: What is it?


Sea dragons (or seadragons) have long had the honor of being on the list of ugliest animals on Earth. The foot-long (from 30-to-45 centimeters) sea dragons, although classified as a fish, look like no fish an ichthyologist has ever seen. They look more like large worms with leaf appendices, a design that has baffled taxonomists and evolutionists alike ever since they were discovered over 200 years ago. This has been a major problem in not only classification, but in producing a plausible evolutionary tree. They do not fit into the category of  insects and other water life, so, by default, they are classified as fish. The reason for this classification is they spend their life in water, have fin-like structures like fish to help them move, their young hatch from eggs, and they breathe by gills.[1] Aside from these traits they are very unlike fish.

One major difference is they do not have scales as do fish, but rather are covered with bony-like plates that resemble insects’ covering. Their head resembles a horse head with a long, thin-tube snout used to suck in food like humans use a straw to drink soda pop. They also lack the smooth, clean, streamlined fish body. This is not a problem because Sea dragons spend most of their time, not swimming like a fish, but drifting in the water.[2]

They require nutrients mostly for normal-body physical needs. They are filter-feeders which digest small sea life, including plankton (tiny shrimp and fish larvae) which permeates ocean water. To survive, this diet requires them to eat most of the day. They hang onto seaweed and swaying with the seaweed moved by ocean currents they absorb plankton.[3]  Like fish, they use a swim bladder full of air to effortlessly keep them afloat. [4]

The two main sea dragon species are the leafy sea dragon and the weedy sea dragon, the latter of which has very few skin flaps compared to the leafy sea dragon variety.[5] A newly discovered species is the bright-red ruby sea dragon which, in contrast to the leafy and weedy sea dragons, lives in deep water.

The leafy sea dragon’s ornate skin flaps are designed to look like leaves which produce a very effective camouflage where they live in shallow water among swaying seaweeds and grasses which provide protection.[6] To blend in further, they can change colors like a chameleon! The protection is very effective—it’s close to impossible to see them in the seaweeds and grasses.[7] The leafy sea dragon’s leaf-shaped appendages also produce a striking resemblance to some land dragons of folklore; thus it is understandable why they are called leafy sea dragons.

The pipefish and sea dragon are rarely found living in the same area.[8] With their relatives, the sea horse and the streamlined pipefish (which looks like a pipe, hence its name), all are classified as Syngnathidae. ‘Syngnathidae’ means “used jaw,” which is one of the very few traits that members of the Syngnathidae family have in common!

Sea dragons are so strange looking that they are often mistaken for a plant, which is why their ugliness functions as a perfect camouflage! Some also have sharp spines which also aid in protection. Otherwise, they have no means of defense. They cannot swim very fast and their mouth does not provide a deterrent against predators. As Professor Paul Zahl writes: “Animal or Vegetable? Fish or Fantasy? Looking like a tangle of seaweed, the leafy sea dragon—kin of the sea horse—gallops through pastures of marine algae.”[9] This is why their common name is the leafy sea dragon (scientific name: Phycodurus eques). They are found only in Southern Australian waters where they hide in their weedy habitat in 15 meter-deep water.[10]


From 100 to 250 eggs are deposited by the female on the underside of its mate’s tail where they are fertilized by the male. The sea horse carries its brood in a markedly swollen brood pouch in contrast to the sea dragon which carries its brood under its tail.[11] Like the sea horse, males carry their young until the eggs hatch after 3 to 5 weeks. At this time the now half-mature eggs hatch and the tiny babies can survive on their own.[12]

Sea Dragon Evolution

Close to nothing is known about the evolution of leafy sea dragons because physical evidence for their evolution is nonexistent.[13] As far as the evolution and physiology of male pregnancy in synognathid fishes is concerned, the experts are still have no explanation.[14] The Syngnathidae family, including the leafy sea dragon, is believed by evolutionists to have emerged around 45 million years ago from some unknown pre-sea dragon precursor. Given evolutionists belief, this means that in the last 45 million years they have hardly changed at all and have remained very poor swimmers.[15] Evolutionists have not even attempted to speculate on basic details about their possible evolutionary history.

Scientists have had major problems even classifying the sea dragon, lumping it in with the sea horse and sea pipe, calling it the new classification Syngnathidae family![16] The name is derived from ancient Greek σύν (syn), meaning “together,” and γνάθος (gnathos), meaning “jaw.” As noted, the fused jaw is one of the very few traits that the entire family has in common. Even genetic analysis has not helped to support their alleged evolution.[17] Several studies have been done in this area, and none help to document their evolution.


In short, the sea dragon is a well-designed animal, although very different from most known forms of life which, for this reason, causes major problems for evolutionists.[18] Evolution is usually inferred by morphological similarities but in this case a stark contrast exists between the sea dragon and all other known forms of life. It is easy to figure out how these creatures differ from other fish, but why and how they came to be that way points to design. For the Creator of all things, richness and diversity among living creatures are part of His signature.

[1] Rake, Jody. 2017. Sea Dragons. Mankato, MN: Edge Books, p. 8.

[2] Weston, Paula. Enter the sea dragons. Creation. 22(1):54-55, December 1999.

[3] Rake, Jody. 2017, p. 17. 

[4] Rake, Jody. 2017, p. 14.

[5] Rake, Jody. 2017, p. 7.

[6] Schuh, Mari. 2021. Sea Dragons. Mankato, MN: Amicus Ink.

[7] Meister, Carl. 2015. Sea Dragons. Minneapolis MN: Bull Frog Books

[8] Catchpoole, David. Pygmy pipe horse pipe dream. Creation 33(4):12-13, October 2011.

[9] Zahl, Paul. 1978. Dragons of the Deep. National Geographic 153(6):838-845, June, p. 839.

[10] Zahl, Paul. 1978, p. 839.

[11] Whittington, C. M. and C. R. Friesen, 2020. The evolution and physiology of male pregnancy in syngnathid fishes. Biological Review. 95, 1252–1272.

[12] Wilson, A. B et al., 2003 The dynamics of male brooding, mating patterns, and sex roles in pipefishes and seahorses (family Syngnathidae). Evolution. 57, 1374–1386.

[13] Teske, P. R. and L. B. Beheregaray, 2009. Evolution of seahorses’ upright posture was linked to Oligocene expansion of seagrass habitats. Biology Letters. 5, 521–523.

[14] and Friesen. 2020

[15] Whittington and Friesen. 2020.

[16] Small, C. M et al. 2016, The genome of the Gulf pipefish enables understanding of evolutionary innovations. Genome Biology. 17, 258.

[17] Leafy seadragon: Australia’s swimming plants. About Animals, 2018; https://www.aboutanimals.com/fish/leafy-seadragon

[18] Lin, Q and S. Fan, et al., 2016. The seahorse genome and the evolution of its specialized morphology. Nature. 540, 395–399.

Jerry Bergman
January 2023

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