Here be dragons. More than anyone ever knew existed.
Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego and the Western Australian Museum, confirmed the existence of a previously unknown third species of seadragon — the ruby seadragon, aka Phyllopteryx dewysea.
It is a family member of the famous leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) and the common seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), both of which are found off the southern and western coasts of Australia.
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But for 2015, their ruby cousins was not known, thanks to the habitat — deeper than recreational diving limits, and its close resemblance to the common seadragon.
The researchers began to suspect that a third species existed when she examined the preserved specimens of what were believed to be common seadragons. Now, thanks to the remote-controlled camera in the water, their suspicions are confirmed.
The ruby seadragon is missing the extensive appendices of its close relatives, use for camouflage (“It never occurred to me that a sea dragon could be missing appendages, because they are characterized by their beautiful camouflage,” says marine biologist Josefin Stiller, a Scripps student, in a statement.
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And it has a curly tail that resembles that of his distant cousins, the seahorses and pipefish.
Researchers believe that the ruby seadragon lost his appendages through evolution, and that the red color provides camouflage in the deep waters, Scripps researchers reported. It is unknown whether the developed its curly tail through evolution, or if the other two species to be lost from them.
The 30-minute video, the scientists recorded show the ruby seadragon striking at its prey, just as other seadragons. Its habitat is dominated by sponges, who would have thought that it is undesirable for seadragons.
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“There are so many discoveries still waiting for us in the south of Australia,” said Nerida Wilson of the Western Australian Museum. “Western Australia has a large diversity of habitats, and each deserves attention.”
The research team recommends that the ruby seadragon may be declared a protected species as soon as possible.
The scientists that the research was published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records.