It was only after genetic analysis of these dead specimens that researchers discovered the creatures belonged to a new species, making it the third-known type of seadragon and the first identified in about 150 years, Michael Greshko reports for National Geographic.
Scripps Oceanography researchers prepare a miniROV during expedition in search of the ruby seadragon.
The new research was published online today (Jan. 13) in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records. This elusive creature is the cousin of the common seadragon and the leafy seadragon but has no extravagant appendages.
'It was really quite an fantastic moment when we discovered that the ruby seadragon lacks appendages, ' said Josefin Stiller, Scripps graduate student and coauthor of the paper.
Video footage of the ruby seadragon, captured using a remotely operated vehicle with a low-light video camera, shows off its intense red colour and reveals that its habitat is very different from the algal reefs occupied by its relatives. There are also other differences between the ruby species and the well-studied varieties due to the depth it lives at.
To prevent the new species from being wiped out by overfishing, the researchers are recommending that the ruby seadragon be protected as soon as possible.
Researchers capture the first-ever field sightings of the newly discovered third species of seadragon. For decades, scientists have known about two of them: the weedy and the leafy seadragon, fish covered in preposterous arrays of foliage-like appendages that allow them to blend into the kelp-covered seafloor. Now, a team of researchers have observed two ruby seadragons on video for almost 30 minutes in the waters off Western Australia, in the Recherche Archipelago.
"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. Common and leafy seadragons can not bend their tails.
There remains a lot to understand about the ruby seadragon, such as whether it is facing any threats, or how widespread its distribution is.
The discovery confirmed many things the researchers had suspected. The marine animal is part of the Syngnathidae family, which also includes seahorses. The Ruby Seadragon has a curly tail that is able to grasp objects, which in turn stops these from getting swept away when there is a surge in water. Rouse added that its red color allows it to appear inconspicuous; in the deep waters where it lives, red light can not penetrate and thus they appear dark.
"There are so many discoveries still awaiting us in southern Australia", co-author Nerida Wilson added. "Western Australia has such a diverse range of habitats, and each one is deserving of attention".