Way back on Halloween, when my parents were visiting from southern Wisconsin, we stopped by my volunteer stomping grounds to check out the newer stuff: Faces of Africa in Tropics and the newly visible baby dolphin (she got her name this week, by the way: Taijah, pronounced Tay-sha). But the star attraction of this particular visit — along with all the small trick-or-treaters in animal costumes — had to be the weedy and leafy sea dragons in Discovery Bay.
Here we see one little weedy between two leafies — note his slimmer snout and less spectacular camouflage. Both varieties of dragon live in Australian waters and feed on tiny mysid shrimp, which they slurp through their strawlike mouths. Cousins of the seahorse, these dragons have fins but no skeletons; they control their buoyancy via a large swim bladder and change direction by nodding their heads. In the past year or so, they moved into the newest, bluest tank in D-Bay — a roomier, more visually striking showcase than the smaller tank where a few weedies used to live. That tank is now home to this fearsome creature:
These impressively toxic spines make lionfish one of the most venomous fish in the ocean. Our old weedy-dragon tank contains two types: a spotfin (this guy, I’m pretty sure) and a dwarf fuzzy. The spines are used for defense, not offense, and the fish comes at you upside-down. Such an attack will rarely kill you, but its effects include nausea, extreme pain and even convulsions. Like sea dragons, lionfish come from Indo-Pacific waters. But they’ve made their way into the Atlantic and Caribbean, where a lack of predators has transformed them into an invasive species. Release by a fed-up home aquarist, or from Florida aquariums shattered by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, explains their presence. I’m just happy to be on the opposite side of the glass. Underwater, lions are far more terrifying than dragons.