A newly discovered red sea dragon proves that our oceans are still full of mystery.
Researchers have discovered a new species of sea dragon, a type of very small fish similar to the seahorse, for the first time in 150 years.
Marine biologist Nerida Wilson, of the Western Australian Museum, relayed the researchers’ excitement over the tiny, vibrantly red creature in a press release.
“All this time we thought that there were only two species. 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.”
The other two species of sea dragons that Wilson refers to are Leafy Sea Dragons, which have an orange tint, and Common Sea Dragons, which are yellow and purple. The unmistakable deep, glowing red of the newly-discovered sea dragon set it apart from the other two species entirely.
Researchers believe that the red color of the so-called Ruby Sea Dragon indicates that it lives at much deeper depths than the other two species of sea dragon. The red color that looks so bright on land would actually be absorbed in the ocean deeps and serve as very effective camouflage.
The discovery was made while scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California at San Diego, were analyzing tissue samples of sea dragons that were actually from 2001. They noticed that the DNA sequence did not match that of other known sea dragons. They were shocked when, after requesting the full specimen whose DNA they were testing as well photographs taken after the capture, they encountered the red sea dragon.
Sea dragons are found only off the coast of southern Australia, and their population has been in decline since the 1990s, although the Australian government tried to protect them.
According to the 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. They have small, transparent dorsal and pectoral fins that propel and steer them awkwardly through the water, but they seem quite content to tumble and drift in the current like seaweed. … Sea dragons survive on tiny crustaceans such as mysids, or sea lice. It is not known if they are preyed upon by other animals.”
According to Mary White, co-founder of the Lowe Family Foundation, which supported the research leading up to the new find, the Ruby Sea Dragon is “an amazing discovery,” and it hints at even more surprises lurking beneath the waters.
“People always talk about going to outer space but they forget about the ocean we have here on our own planet. For me ocean conservation and research is paramount, and we need to do what we can to encourage and nurture ocean exploration.”
For more on new animal discoveries, click here to see the bizarre sea creature with 100 arms.