Spotlight: Ruby Seadragon Seen Alive for First Time

“There are rubies in the sea!” and “There be dragons!” exclaimed the news.

Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography announced the exciting news that they’ve spotted and filmed a live Ruby Seadragons in the wild, in waters off Australia.

“It was really quite an amazing moment,” said Scripps graduate student Josefin Stiller.

It’s the first time this surprise third species of seadragon has been seen alive in the wild.

ruby-seadragon

Ruby seadragon, Phyllopteryx dewysea; photo Zoe Della Vedova

The Ruby Seadragon was discovered last year by Scripps researchers Greg W. Rouse, Josefin Stiller, and Nerida G. Wilson :

“Last year, Scripps Oceanography marine biologists Josefin Stiller and Greg Rouse, and Nerida Wilson of the Western Australian Museum described the previously unknown Ruby Seadragon from preserved specimens misidentified as Common Seadragons—one of which was collected nearly one hundred years ago.”

In the words of the New York Times:

Since the 19th century, marine biologists had thought that only two types of these enchanting fish existed — the leafy and weedy — until they discovered a third among museum specimens in 2015: the ruby sea dragon.

Now, for the first time, scientists have observed the ruby sea dragon swimming in the wild. It is colored deep red and looks like a stretched-out sea horse with a hump like a camel and a tail it can curl. Unlike its kin, the ruby sea dragon lacks the appendages that help camouflage leafy and weedy sea dragons among the ocean floor’s kelp and sea grass.

Watch the first-ever video of a Ruby Seadragon here: http://bit.ly/2jKQLWZ
(our website technology won’t allow us to post this important video here)

The backstory of this species’ discovery is fascinating, and includes researchers building a 3D model using preserved specimens, in order to envision what they were looking for.  their paper outlining the discovery.

The surprise discovery led to more surprises. The Ruby Seadragon has a prehensile tail, like seahorses. It also is lacking the appendages that other seadragons have.

The hunt for the Ruby Seadragon was complex. Because Ruby Seadragons were believed to live at depth, Scripps partnered with Total Marine Technology, which provided ROV support in the hunt for the new seadragon species. The Western Australian Museum gave researchers access to the seadragon specimens in its collection, which proved crucial in piecing together the puzzle, since the Ruby Seadragon had only been seen dead, and those specimens had been misclassified over time as known seadragon species.

“Until last year, no one had ever suspected a third species of seadragon existed,” said Rouse, lead author of the study. “This discovery was made thanks to the great benefit of museum collections.” And, we would add, the tenacity of the researchers.

Below, the other two types of sea dragons: Weedy, or Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (lower left); Leafy, or Phycodurus eques  (lower right).

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