Weedy Sea Dragon Hatches Eggs at SeaWorld

Inside the Manta Aquarium at SeaWorld, Orlando, an exciting birth has taken place! A male (yes male!) weedy sea dragon has hatched his first few babies, the first time at SeaWorld, with more hatching over the next few weeks.

The highlighted area shows egg being “shaken” off the male weedy sea dragon as it is hatched.

A close relative of both the sea horse and the leafy sea dragon (both also on display at the Manta Aquarium), the weedy sea dragon female lays around 100 eggs. She deposits them onto the “brood sac” on the underside of the male’s tail. He then fertilizes the eggs on this spongy patch and provides oxygen through tiny cups. Incubation lasts until they are at full term which can be from five to nine weeks.

  Baby weedy sea dragons, scientific name Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, are instantly independent at birth and will feed on their yolk sac and tiny zooplankton in the water for nourishment. When they are old enough they will hunt for mysid shrimps. The sea dragons will take about a year to grow to full size.

Weedy sea dragons can be found naturally off the coast of Australia. Their numbers have drastically declined since the 1980s due to pollution runoff and being gathered by collectors of for use in alternative medicines.

There have been only three other successful breeding programs of weedy sea dragons by aquariums in the United States which makes the news of these births even more momentous!

Cartilaginous Fish at SeaWorld

Daniel (3 1/2) could spend hours in the Manta Aquarium. He’s fascinated by their flight-like swimming abilities. “Look, there goes a cow nose!” he shouts, as a stingray glides by. (He’s learned about 4 or 5 varieties of rays, which for 3 years old is pretty good in my opinion.)

I learned recently (or I should say re-learned, as some Marine Biology class from my past most likely covered) that rays, skates, and sharks are closely related. (Don’t make me look up the Latin!) They’re “cartilaginous” fish. Basically, they’re the fish with no bones. And while sharks and rays swim and breathe differently, they are kissin’ cousins.

The Guitarfish is a type of ray. One look at the creature, and you’ll see why the “guitar”-part of its moniker fits perfectly. If you lifted it up from its narrow tail, you’d want to “strum” the flat part of its body between the pectoral fins. Do NOT try this at home! Actually, those wide wing-like pectoral fins help amateurs like myself tell them apart. Sharks use their mid-sized pectoral fins to steer them like a joystick… up, down, left, right. Rays do a sort of “breast stroke”, flying through the waters. Flutter. Flutter.

As we sit at the aquarium window’s edge, my family is filled with wonder, again, at these magnificent creatures. “Look! Here comes the Guitarfish,” Daniel squeals. The adults nearby look down at him.

“Isn’t that a shark?” one man asks.

“Nooooooo,” he assures them. And then, “See that one? That one there? It’s a Guitarfish. And THAT is a cow nose,” he adds as his favorite ray whooshes by.

The adult just shakes his head. “How does this toddler know this?” he probably wonders.