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Ruby Seadragon Makes its Debut as a New Species

Feb 18, 2015 03:57 PM EST
Ruby Seadragon
(Photo : Scripps Institution of Oceanography )

The stunning ruby sea dragon has made its debut, marking the discovery of the third species of these exotic and delicate fish ever to be known.

As is somewhat common in the incredibly complex and confusing world of taxonomy, this discovery was made purely by chance when scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego were analyzing genetic and anatomical data on samples from what were once the only two species of seadragon in the world.

When they stumbled upon an unusual tissue sample, curiosity got the better of Josefin Stiller and Greg Rouse of Scripps, as well as Nerida Wilson of the Western Australia Museum (WAM).

The trio quickly requested the full specimen that the WAM had on hand, as well as photographs taken just after it was retrieved from the wild in 2007. What they received was a stunningly bright red seadragon - one vastly different from the frilly oranges of Leafy Seadragons and the yellow and purple hues of Common Seadragons.

Further DNA testing and skeletal analysis verified that, indeed, the trio had a new species before them. They named the creature Phyllopteryx dewysea, also referred to as the "Ruby Seadragon." Results of their analysis are detailed in the journal Royal Society Open Science. (Scroll to read on...)

X-ray radiographs of the Leafy Seadragon (top); Common Seadragon (mid); and Ruby Seadragon (bottom).
(Photo : Stiller et al. 2015 Roy Soc Open Sci) X-ray radiographs of the Leafy Seadragon (top); Common Seadragon (mid); and Ruby Seadragon (bottom).

"It has been 150 years since the last seadragon was described and all this time we thought that there were only two species," Wilson said in a statement. "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."

Further investigation found that the WAM had many other examples of the species in their collection aside from the 2007 specimen - all of which had been hiding in plain sight.

"This new seadragon first entered the Western Australia Museum's collection in 1919, and lay unidentified for almost a century," Wilson explained. "Recognizing this new species demonstrates how museum collections underpin biodiversity discovery."

"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," added 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."

[Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography ]

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