A rare and exciting event has taken place at SeaWorld Orlando over the past few days. One of our weedy sea dragons – which can normally be seen at our aquarium exhibit inside Manta – has given birth to his first few babies! Yes, you read that correctly – we did say HE gave birth!
This is the first time weedy sea dragon eggs have successfully hatched at a SeaWorld park and is considered a very rare occurrence in aquariums around the world. In fact, there have only been three other aquariums in the United States to successfully breed this species.
Like the closely related sea horse, male weedy sea dragons are actually the ones responsible for bearing young. After an elaborate courtship dance, the female will deposit between 100-250 eggs onto a spongy patch found on the underside of the male’s tail. The eggs are fertilized during this transfer and remain with their father until they begin hatching. Dad is responsible for incubation and care of the eggs until they reach full term – which is normally between 30 and 60 days.
Close to 100 eggs were laid by the female in June and they’ll continue to hatch over the next couple of weeks. Though dad did a good job caring for them up to this point, once the eggs hatch, the tiny newborns are on their own. They’ll receive nutrition by absorbing the remains of their yolk sac. Once the egg sac has been absorbed, the miniature sea dragons will begin feeding on newly hatched brine shrimp. It will take almost a year for the babies to reach full size – which is about 18 inches long.
Weedy sea dragons are very unique looking creatures that are protected and found naturally in tropical coastal waters of south and west Australia. Their leaf-like limbs and fins allow them to camouflage themselves flawlessly among sea grass and seaweed. Head over to SeaWorld Orlando to check out the weedy sea dragons, as well as the leafy sea dragons, inside our aquarium exhibit at Manta.