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New ocean species revealed: The ruby red sea dragon

Scientists are aware that the vastness of the oceans means there are countless species out there we’ve yet to discover. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not cause for celebration when a new species is discovered. Case in point, the new species of sea dragon discovered by researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Unlike the orange Leafy Sea Dragon of the purple-tinted Common Sea Dragon, this new species is a vibrant, ruby red color.

“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 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. This latest finding provides further proof of the value of scientific collections and museum holdings.”

The new species is named Phyllopteryx dewysea, or the “Ruby Dragon.”

Evidence of the species was first found by the Western Australia Museum (WAM) in 2007. Photographs and the full specimen followed soon after, where scientists were able to determine that the new dragon was a male carrying several dozen offspring. A CT scan produced a 3D model of the sea dragon, revealing bone structure differences that confirmed it was genetically separate from the two known species.

The Ruby Dragon’s vibrant color would be out of place in the open ocean, leading researchers to believe it lives in the depths. There, it’s red coloring would effectively serve as camouflage against the darker backdrop.

Though only recently confirmed, this is hardly the first time man has laid eyes on the Ruby Dragon. An archival search at WAM revealed that one specimen had washed up on a Perth beach about 100 years ago. Two other instances came up in the search as well.

“It has been 150 years since the last seadragon was described and all this time we thought that there were only two species,” said WAM marine biologists Nerida 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.”