Pot-bellied seahorses, as the name suggests, have a large swollen belly. Like other seahorses, this species comes in a wide range of colors – brown, yellow, gray, white, orange or mottled with dark spots on its head and trunk. They have a forward-tilted, long-snouted head, eyes that can move independently of each other and a prehensile tail. Males and females differ in appearance. Males have a longer tail, a shorter snout and a smooth soft pouch-like area at the base of the abdomen. Females have more of a pointed stomach.
Of the three Caribbean seahorse species found in US waters, this one has the smallest distribution, being absent from the Gulf of Mexico. In the US, it is found only in North Carolina and the Atlantic Coast of Florida. Its range extends to Brazil, where it is an important species in the tropical fish trade. It is also called the Brazilian or Slender seahorse. Like most seahorses, the color can be highly variable, but tends towards bright yellows and oranges. Its favored habitat is seagrass beds and mangroves.
The DWA was one of the first facilities in the US to successfully maintain and display these beautifully ornate relatives of the seahorse. Due to their specialized dietary and habitat requirements, this species has not reproduced successfully in an aquarium environment. The DWA is an industry leader in the husbandry of this species and hopes to help find the key to their reproduction in the future. Leafy and Weedy seadragons are strictly protected and export is carefully regulated.
Like its better-known relative, the Leafy seadragon, the Weedy seadragon is considered a highly specialized pipefish, rather than a true seahorse. The males of all pipefishes and seahorses receive the eggs from the female after they are laid and brood them until they hatch. Unlike male seahorses who store eggs in a brood pouch, seadragons attach eggs to a brood patch. The Weedy seadragon is the Marine Emblem of the Australian State of Victoria while the “Leafy” is the Marine Emblem for South Australia.
The Ribbon seadragon, more accurately described as a pipehorse, is a close relative of the seahorses and pipefish. Depicted as the “Rainbow serpent” in the Aboriginal rock art of Arnhem Land, the Ribbon seadragon was believed to have special powers. In 2006, The DWA became the first aquarium in the world to successfully breed this relatively unknown species. Like other Syngnathids, the Ribbon seadragon feeds on very small shrimp known as mysid shrimp. Unlike their cousins the Leafy (Phycodurus eques) and Weedy seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), the male Ribbon seadragon possesses a pouch and can give birth to more than 800 fully developed offspring at a time.