Ruby Seadragon Has Been Seen In The Wild For The First Time

The ruby seadragon. Scripps Oceanography/UC San Diego

Ben Taub 13 Jan 2017, 01:00

In a story reminiscent of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, a team of marine scientists has tracked down a sea creature so rare that its very existence had until now only been unconfirmed speculation. Behold the ruby seadragon.

Closely related to the common and leafy seadragons – both of which use their leaf-like appendages to camouflage themselves among seaweed – the ruby seadragon was finally spotted near the Recherche Archipelago of Western Australia, at a depth of around 50 meters (164 feet).

 

Closely related to the common and leafy seadragons – both of which use their leaf-like appendages to camouflage themselves among seaweed – the ruby seadragon was finally spotted near the Recherche Archipelago of Western Australia, at a depth of around 50 meters (164 feet).

Researchers only began to suspect the existence of the species last year, when they noticed that some preserved common seadragons at the Western Australian Museum lacked the characteristic leaf-like structures for which they are known, suggesting that these particular specimens may actually have been a different animal.

Yet without seeing one in the wild, the team could not be sure that the creature’s appendages hadn’t simply fallen off and been lost by the museum.

Writing in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records, the study authors explain how they finally managed to catch a wild ruby seadragon on camera, filming it for around half an hour and confirming its existence once and for all.

The ruby seadragon lacks the leafy appendages of other seadragons. Scripps Oceanography/UC San Diego

As expected, the animal lacked the leafy fins of its relatives, probably because it lives among sponges rather than seaweed and kelp meadows, and therefore doesn’t require them for camouflage.

In a statement, study co-author Josefin Stiller said that “it never occurred to me that a seadragon could lack appendages because they are characterized by their beautiful camouflage leaves.”

Leafy seadragon, master of camouflage. AquariusPhotography/Shutterstock

The researchers also found that the animal has a curled tail, rather like a seahorse, and suspect that it may use this to hold on to items to prevent them being swept away by currents.

They also confirmed the ruby seadragon’s red coloration, which helps to camouflage it in the dark waters of the deep sea, where red wavelengths of light cannot penetrate. As a result, the creature’s body does not reflect any light, meaning it remains invisible to both predators and prey.

content-1484243966-a-ruby-seadragon-phylA ruby seadragon Phyllopteryx dewysea that washed up on the Point Culver cliffs in Western Australia. Zoe Della Vedova

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