New Species Of Seadragon Discovered Off Australian Coast
By Robin Burks
After scouring several museum collections, a group of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego recently discovered a new species of seadragon.
This new seadragon is only the third species of the creatures ever found. The other two species, leafy seadragons and common seadragons, vary in color from this new one, nicknamed the ruby seadragon, because of its bright shade of red.
Scientists discovered the new seadragon, whose official name is phyllopteryx dewysea, while comparing their analyses of tissue samples supplied by several museums to photographs of the ruby seadragon taken in the wild in 2007.
“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,” says Greg Rouse, curator of the Scripps Benthic Invertebrate Collection. “That such large charismatic marine species are still being found is evidence that there is still much to be done.”
Scripps graduate student Josefin Stiller originally found the first specimen of the ruby seadragon. After identifying the new species, she used CT (computer tomography) scans to create virtual slices of the seadragon’s body. Then, a computer modeled a 3-D version of the seadragon, unveiling that the ruby seadragon’s skeletal system is different from the other two species.
Marine biologist Nerida Wilson of the Western Australian Museum (WAM) discovered a second sample of the ruby seadragon in the museum’s collection. That specimen sat in the museum for over a hundred years ago without identification. She also found two other specimens at the Australian National Fish Collection.
These scientists believe this new discovery is just the first of many and stress the importance of ocean research.
“It has been 150 years since the last seadragon was described and all this time we thought that there were only two species,” says Wilson. “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.”
Seadragons, also related to seahorses, are exclusive to the areas off the coast of southern and western Australia. The leafy seadragon gets its name from its green leaf-like protrusions that extend from its body. This camouflages the creature so that it appears as seaweed to would-be predators. The common seadragon has yellow and purple markings, with the same leaf-like appearance.
The red seadragon, however, looks much different and scientists believe that it lives in deeper waters than the other two species.