A first glimpse into their existence
Seadragons are amongst the most extraordinary creatures of the sea. Even though they do not look much like it, they are indeed fish and are closely related to seahorses and pipefish. There are only two species of seadragon known worldwide, the leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques) and the weedy seadragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus), and they are both very rare and exclusively life in the coastal waters of Australia. Did I say two species? SURPRISE! In 2015 researchers discovered a third species, the ruby seadragon (Phyllopteryx dewysea), in a collection of slightly shrivelled-up museum specimens. A morphologic and genetic analysis confirmed that it was indeed a separate species. Unlike the two other species, the ruby seadragon did not seem to have any of the typical frazzled body extensions that serve as camouflage. However, these so-called protrusions or lobes break off easily when a dried individual is handled in the museum, so specialists just assumed they might have gone missing during storage. So the scientific community and conservationists worldwide were stunned when in January 2017 a scientific paper was published that showed the very first footage of two bright-eyed and bushy-tailed free swimming ruby seadragons. And indeed, they do not have any protrusions!

Here is the video footage from the deep waters of Australia and a short documentary about its discovery.
For all three of these incredible species, habitat loss and the degradation of the coral reefs and seagrass beds are major threats to their existence. First actions have been taken to breed the weedy seadragon in Melbourne Aquarium and in Birch Aquarium to protect the species from extinction. But so far, very little is known about their biology and behaviour in the wild. Further research is crucial for finding out more about these creatures before they are at risk of vanishing from our planet entirely.

Author: A. Loth
Illustrator: A. Loth