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Weedy seadragon colour variation


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#1 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 09:45 AM

It is well known that weedy seadragon colour varies considerably through their range in Australia. Which as Aengus Moran jokingly pointed out, when we were diving together in Sydney, has led to some photographers accusing others of over-photoshopping in competitions!

I had seen different colour varieties before, but on this trip to Australia I was able to see three very distinct varieties within the space of a week (diving around Sydney, then Melbourne, then Tasmania) - which really made me realise how much they vary. Up around Sydney they were quite golden in colour (top photo), but down in the Melbourne area they were much less colourful and quite greeny and thin (middle photo), while in Tasmania they were rich purple and very colourful and had such deep bodies that my buddy Shannon nicknamed them the discus-seadragons (bottom photo).

weedies.jpg

The Tasmanian weedies really blew me away. I had always been rather disparaging about the weedy seadragon, much preferring its more flamboyant relative the leafy seadragon. I am guilty of questioning why the BBC had wasted their time on the "ugly seadragon species" here on Wetpixel after seeing one the episodes of last year's Life series. But now I am changed. I appreciate the weedies as much as the leafies. Especially Tassie's weedies.

Anyway, the trip was never supposed to be focused on weedies. But after Aengus got us going on them, we couldn't stop finding them. Highlights included finding at least 15 juveniles in Victoria (when diving with Anthony and Steve) and I was especially proud to find weedies in the giant kelp on both my kelp dives in Tasmania (a rare treat these days).

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#2 marktol

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 12:23 PM

Great pictures as always Alex,

I think the weedy's are fascinating, such unusual creatures! I would love to have an opportunity to photograph them, I think Australia is going to be out of my price range for a while mind..!

Thanks for sharing,
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#3 Rothi

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 12:27 PM

Really awesome Pics, Alex.

I like the third one the best! :-)

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#4 DuncanS

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 02:38 PM

Great shots Alex,

It's very interesting, not only the colour differences but also the body shape and fin shape / sizes differences between the three.

Compared to the first, the middle one looks anorexic and the last one was definateley first in the queue for the pies!!
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#5 Tjsnapper

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 03:33 PM

Very nice shots Alex, once again green with envy :) THe Mebournians look a bit anorexic though... To think I spent a week in Tazmania and just played golf and photographed golf courses!!!!!! Oh how stupid I was :)
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#6 Pfuller

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 04:02 PM

Great photographic study Alex! I don't think they have been split into subspecies, but looks like it might be on the cards. I want to see a Tassie variation now!

#7 scuba princess

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 06:13 PM

Interesting subject.
I was blown away when I saw my first Tassie weedy. They were much bigger and more colourful than the sad little specimens I'd seen around WA, which looked like the middle pic you posted Alex.
When I did my two dives in Tassie, alas not in giant kelp, in January last year I was told by the dive operator that the female weedies have much deeper bodies than the males. Is this true?
Eleanor

Edited by scuba princess, 23 March 2010 - 02:12 AM.


#8 Stephen Colquitt

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 07:32 PM

It was great to meet you and share an ice cream Alex

#9 Stephen Colquitt

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 07:45 PM

Oh - acouple of points about the anorexic looking Melbourne seadragons. :)

1. Males/females have different body shapes (males are thinner in the abdomen). The large red one in Alex's beautiful Tasmanian specimen is most probably a femaile compared to the one from Melbourne that looks like a male.

2. Males in Melbourne have only recently finished their breeding seson (hence all the juveniles) where they tend to loose a bit of condition. Im not sure about the breeding seasons for the fish in Sydney or Tasmania.

http://www.dpi.nsw.g...161---final.pdf

#10 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 10:35 PM

@ Eleanor - Shannon said that the WA weedies were pretty similar to the VIC ones too.
@ Steve - Interesting info. Given the amount of food for them under Flinders I'd expect them to get their condition back soon. The ones is NSW had finished with eggs too. In Tasmania I found one with eggs, but the dive shop said that most had finished. The male that still had eggs was about half way through hatching them and he was one of the ones I found in the giant kelp. Loving that yard of ale photo on Facebook!
Alex

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#11 anthp

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 03:34 PM

Feels like I'm diving under Flinders jetty again with you all swimming around here.

Great to meet you Alex and very interesting to see the colour variations documented so nicely.

I have seen other weedy pictures and been interested in how different they looked from those I'm used to seeing around here. I reckon those we saw at Flinders earlier this month had lost condition as Steve says, but I don't think we ever get specimens looking like the discus beauties you found further south.

I also find the variation in habitat interesting. It looks to be Ecklonia radiata in Sydney, Amphibolis antarctica in Melbourne and possibly Phyllospora comosa in Tassie. From kelp to seagrass and back again as you travel N-S.

Did you find any dragons in seagrass or Ecklonia in Tassie?

Looks like I'm off to Tassie in the future!
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#12 aquaplane

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 01:42 AM

As a born and bred Tasmanian, I can vouch that we have quite a lot of these little guys floating around. You find them in both Ecklonia and Phyllospora beds (usually our rocky reefs are dominated by a combination of these two), and also hanging around the Macrocystis forests. I haven't dived much outside of Tasmania and haven't seen the weedies in other areas, so it's really interesting to see there's such a range of morphologies across similar temperate rocky reefs. I've attached a few snaps of different Tasmanian weedies. The male with eggs isn't quite as fat as the females, but it's certainly not all gross and emaciated like the Melbourne one... :o

EDIT: just edited this to add locations to the images in case they're relevant...

Fortescue Bay, TAS
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Kingston Beach, TAS
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Fortescue Bay, TAS
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Bruny Island, TAS
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Kingston Beach, TAS
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Bicheno, TAS
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Edited by aquaplane, 29 March 2010 - 12:58 AM.


#13 Pfuller

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 09:34 PM

To continue the comparison, I'm from the Bellarine Peninsula on the western side of Port Phillip Bay(near Melbourne, Victoria). All these shots are taken within Port Phillip Bay at Cottage by the Sea Reef. Looks like we have the real "weedy" seadragons. :o


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#14 ATJ

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 10:01 PM

I know of two areas around Sydney where I have seen weedies out on the sand where theres is almost no fixed algae around: Shelly Beach (although there's can be a bit of kelp and sargasum weed floating around) and North Head.

Shelly Beach
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North Head
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#15 Karl

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 10:43 PM

And here is one from Fremantle, Western Australia. The dive site is the South Mole.

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#16 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 11:22 PM

Thanks guys - this is really interesting. Great to see examples from WA too. Here are some more of mine:

Botany Bay, NSW:
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A juvenile weedy from VIC (a real cutie):
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Waterfall Bay, TAS (no giant kelp - they seemed more purple here):
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Fortescue Bay, TAS (in giant kelp - more red here - male with eggs, then female):
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#17 aquaplane

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Posted 29 March 2010 - 12:52 AM

Are those eggs in the second-last photo above purple? Even that is really interesting - I've probably seen 100ish males with eggs around Tasmania over the last few years and they've always been red.

#18 photovan

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Posted 29 March 2010 - 06:28 AM

Some more of the cute little buggers...

Deep Glen Bay, Tasman Peninsula, TAS
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Inside Bowen Island, Jervis Bay, NSW
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between "the Leap" and "The Steps" Kurnell, Botany Bay, NSW
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#19 AengusM

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 02:26 AM

Are those eggs in the second-last photo above purple? Even that is really interesting - I've probably seen 100ish males with eggs around Tasmania over the last few years and they've always been red.


Here is a shot from a few months ago of Weedy Eggs at Bare Island in Sydney;

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I've found that Weedy's with eggs don't travel too much, any time I've seen one with eggs and have returned within a week, they generally are at the same spot.

I've also found that when a Weedy is eating, it generally doesn't care about the photographer and I hit the jackpot on both of those with the above shot when I sat on the sand beside the Weedy, dropped by breathing and a few minutes later it was right in front of the lens and didn't care one bit about me.

I had a similar incident last weekend also at Bare Island.

IMHO, its rare to see two Weedy's close together, but I saw two skinny guy's, possibly juveniles, moving along almost in unison last Friday. Again there was sand on the outside so I moved over there and dropped onto it a metre ahead of them (Yes, I checked out what I was dropping on). To my amazement both of them came right up to me to the point that I couldn't move for fear hitting one.

I suspect this was a similar case to my food theory (I'm no scientist), that they were preoccupied with chasing/being chased by one another and didn't really care about me (maybe that's a silly theory?).

Anyway, it was a great experience and what I noticed was that both looked young and much more redder than "normal"

Here is a shot of one of them, its reduced in size but not cropped, 100mm at minimum distance, any closer and I couldn't focus...this guy didn't care about me at all;

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I felt sorry for his/her friend who had some sort of mite on its forehead.

Alex, enjoyed the dives with yourself and Shannon, look forward to seeing you guy's again!

Cheers,

Aengus

#20 ScubaDiva

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 01:21 PM

They really are the cutest things under the sea.

I'm off to Sydney for a month on 20th April so any tips on where to dive around there would be great. :beer:
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