(TIML NEWS)A new kind of sea creature was observed in the wild for the first time, years after it was discovered among old museum specimens.
The ruby sea dragon is the third of three sea dragon species to be known to science.
The recent encounter with the creature overturns some of the conclusions scientists had made about the animals, which are found mostly in the ocean waters around Australia.
Previously, scientists had thought sea dragons were distinguished by long, wispy, leaf-like appendages. This feature helped name the two other species in existence — the leafy sea dragon and the common sea dragon (also known as the weedy sea dragon).
But the ruby sea dragon lacks these, bearing a far greater resemblance to a sea dragon relative, the seahorse. Other sea dragon species use their leafy limbs to blend in with the seaweeds growing in their preferred habitat.
The ruby lives in an altogether different type of environment than its cousins, favoring deep waters dotted with sea sponges, rather than with seagrass and kelp.
At more than 50 meters below the surface of the ocean, the team needed to use an unmanned submersible, supplied by Australian company Total Marine Technology, to capture footage of the animal.
They think the sea dragon’s red color may now be what camouflages it in the darkened waters, the researchers said in a news release.
The animal also appears to have a prehensile tail, another unique feature, which it may use to anchor itself to rocks or other objects when waters grow turbulent.
And it is not a vegetarian. The team witnessed the animals striking at prey during the expedition.
The team will continue to research the animal, and said in the study that they are recommending that Australian authorities take steps to protect the species.