The discovery marks the first time a new species of sea dragon has been found in 150 years, and scientists are understandably excited.
Scientists described the new discovery in the journal Royal Society Open Science this week. It came about when scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego were carrying out analyses of tissue samples taken in 2007. The specimen had been stored in the museum, and the team requested the full specimen after noticing that its DNA sample did not match other sea dragons.
Exciting sea dragon discovery
“All this time we thought that there were only two species,” marine biologist Nerida Wilson of the Western Australia Museum said. “Suddenly, there is a third species! If we can overlook such a charismatic new species for so long, we definitely have many more exciting discoveries awaiting us in the oceans.”
Sea dragons are only found off southern Australia, and are closely related to seahorses and pipefish. According to National Geographic, sea dragons “have very long, thin snouts; slender trunks covered in bony rings; and thin tails which, unlike their seahorse cousins, cannot be used for gripping.” Although they possess “small, transparent dorsal and pectoral fins that propel and steer them awkwardly through the water… they seem quite content to tumble and drift in the current like seaweed.”
Future expedition planned
Sea dragons have never been seen in this shade of red. The ruby sea dragon, also known as Phyllopteryx dewysea, has a very distinctive look compared to the brown or yellow leafy sea dragons, or common sea dragons, which are sometimes shades of purple. According to researchers the ruby sea dragon lives in deeper waters where it uses its darker color as camouflage.
Following the initial discovery of the ruby sea dragon, three other specimens have been found, one of which dates from 1919. “We’re now in a golden age of taxonomy and these powerful DNA tools are making it possible for more new species than ever to be discovered,” said study co-author Greg Rouse of Scripps Oceanography.
Sea dragon populations have been declining since the early 1990s, and the Australian government has taken steps to protect them. Researchers are now planning to search for ruby sea dragons in the wild.
The scientists claim that the discovery shows that there are still hidden surprises in the world’s oceans, and there remains a lot of work to be done.