Jan 13, 2017

The Elusive Ruby Seadragon Is Seen for the First Time in the Wild

The mysterious Ruby seadragon, a new species known only from a handful of museum specimens, has been seen for the first time in the wild.

Scientists from the University of California San Diego (UC) and the Western Australia (WA) Museum went looking for the creature in waters off western Australia and hit a biological home run: almost 30 minutes of video (see below) featuring two Ruby seadragons.

The creature has only been known since early in 2015, when researchers confirmed the animal as a third seadragon species (joining the Common and Leafy varieties). That identification was made from CT scans of a small group of specimens – one of which a century old – previously thought to have been those of Common seadragons.

Seadragons are marine fish in the same taxonomic family as pipefish and seahorses. They live off Australia's coast, among reefs and beds of seaweed, dining on zooplankton and very small crustaceans.

The fiery new animal stands in visually stark contrast to the orange-tinted Leafy sundragon and the yellow/purple Common, and that's not the only difference, the researchers found.

Thanks to the video footage, researchers now know for sure that Ruby seadragon doesn't have the leaf-like appendages common to the other two species. The missing feature was documented in the CT scans of the earlier specimens, but before the live footage there was no way of knowing if this was how Ruby seadragons really looked or if the appendages had somehow been lost during collection.

Common (above) and Leafy seadragons have leaf-like appendages for camouflage, a feature lacking in the new Ruby species.
"It never occurred to me that a seadragon could lack appendages, because they are characterized by their beautiful camouflage leaves," said Josefin Stiller, co-author of a study documenting the find in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records, in a statement.

The Common and Leafy seadragons use the appendages for camouflage among seaweed, and researchers suspect the Ruby red version uses its color as camouflage instead: They think the creature inhabits deeper waters than its cousins, at depths where the red shading would be absorbed and serve as its own camouflage.

Read more at Discovery News

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