Elusive ruby dragon seen alive for the first time

In 2015, researcher Greg Rouse at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and colleagues described a new species, the ruby seadragon, using dead specimens found in museums and later pulled up from trawls. Dubbed the ruby seadragon for its resplendent red coloration, the animal was spotted off Western Australia's Recherche Archipelago, as part of a joint expedition with the Western Australian Museum.

"It never occurred to me that a seadragon could lack appendages, because they are characterized by their handsome camouflage leaves", said Josefin Stiller, co-author of a study documenting the find in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records, in a statement.

The film, though not crystal clear yet pretty describing suggests that ruby seadragon is strikingly red and looks mysterious.

The ruby seadragon lacks the leafy decorations of the leafy seadragon (left) and the common weedy seadragon (right).

Scientists and researchers are hopeful that the new species of seadragon will help the studies in regard of marine life and its different habitats. The other two species use the appendages to camouflage themselves in seaweed and other sea-based vegetation. It was found at a depth of more than 50 metres; further than recreational scuba diving limits and deeper than the other seadragon relatives. Before witnessing the fish in the wild, researchers were unsure if the ruby seadragon specimens in museums had lost their appendages over time while in collection.

"It was really quite an incredible moment", said Scripps graduate student Josefin Stiller, the co-author of a new study published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records.

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Greg Rouse, Scripps Oceanography marine biologist and co-author on these studies, credits scientific collections for the wonderful find. For example, the leaf-like appendages, a signature characteristic of the common and leafy seadragon, were missing in the ruby seadragon.

Scientists studied the elusive species and revealed new details about their anatomy, habitat and behavior.

Perhaps the most surprising find of all is that, unlike the leafy and weedy seadragons, the ruby seadragon has a prehensile tail that it can curl around objects to avoid being swept away when the water surges. As for its ruby red color, the researchers believe it's an evolved trait that acts as camouflage in the deeper, dimly lit waters in which it lives. Common and leafy seadragons can not bend their tails.

"There are so many discoveries still awaiting us in southern Australia", says Nerida Wilson of the Western Australian Museum and coauthor of the study.

The researchers predict that the Ruby Seadragon may have lost its appendages owing to evolution. "Western Australia has such a diverse range of habitats, and each one is deserving of attention", Wilson said.

  • Toni Ryan