Researchers publish first video of ruby seadragons in the wild

Janis ColeJan 14, 2017

Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have recorded the first-ever sighting of the third species of seadragon, dubbed the Ruby Seadragon in Western Australia. For nearly 30 minutes, the vehicle followed two wild ruby seadragons - the first ever recorded. Marine Biodiversity Records has been launched in response to the changing marine and coastal environment and an increasing demand for the documentation of marine organisms in locations where they have not formerly been recorded, as well as of species loss from habitats. The two seadragons were found swimming in waters over 50m deep, well beyond the limits of recreational scuba diving, and researchers think this is why the species went undiscovered for so long. "It was really quite an awesome moment" when the team first spotted the creature, said Scripps graduate student and study co-author Josefin Stiller.

The researchers believe that the new species is unique to other seadragons because it lives in deeper water. The other two species use the appendages to camouflage themselves in seaweed and other sea-based vegetation.

In 2015 and 2016, two other specimens washed ashore near the spot where the 2007 specimen was found.

"Until a year ago, no one had ever suspected a third species of seadragon existed", said Nerida Wilson of the Western Australian Museum, lead author of the study and curator of the Scripps Benthic Invertebrate Collection.

"It never occurred to me that a seadragon could lack appendages because they are characterised by their attractive camouflage leaves".

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The new discovery revealed a lot about the anatomy, behaviour and habitat of the Ruby Seadragon. Its closest relatives, the leafy and common seadragon, inhabit much shallower depths of 3-25 meters.

The ruby seadragon differs from other seadragons because it lacks ornate leaf-like appendages that were previously thought to be a characteristic of all seadragons.

Seadragons are related to seahorses and pipefish.

Rouse says seeing the ruby seadragon alive confirms that they lack such lacy protuberances.

To determine if the fish truly lacked appendages, or if the museum specimens had lost them prior to or during the collection process, the researchers needed to observe them in the wild.

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"There are so many discoveries still awaiting us in southern Australia", said Scripps' Greg Wilson, a coauthor of the study.

The researchers were also surprised to find that the ruby seadragon has a tail it may use to cling on to the rocks, to avoid being swept away by strong sea surges.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography partnered with the Western Australian Museum and launched a scientific expedition off the coast of Western Australia to find Ruby Seadragons in the wild.

"Western Australia has such a diverse range of habitats, and each one is deserving of attention", Dr Wilson says.

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