A dried seadragon that lay unidentified in the Western Australian Museum’s specimen collection for almost a century has been classified as an entirely new species.


The first recorded specimen of the uniquely adorned creature washed up on Cottesloe Beach in 1919 and was until now thought to be a common seadragon, which has yellow and purple hues.

But through a combination of modern DNA sampling technology and research linking it to other specimens, it’s been shown by WA Museum scientist Nerida Wilson and her colleagues to be a new species.

It is only the third kind of seadragon ever recorded, the other being the instantly recognisable leafy seadragon, which has a green and orange hue.

The ruby seadragon’s deep red colouring suggests it inhabits deeper waters than the other two species because the shading effectively goes black at depth, serving as camouflage.

Dr Wilson said seadragons were unique to southern Australia and the symbol for conservation in those waters.

And there’s a chance there could be more species out there, she said.

“There’s a lot that we don’t know,” Dr Wilson told AAP on Thursday.

“Given it has taken 150 years since the last one was described, we might not know the answer for another couple of hundred years.

“We certainly would need to put a lot more into exploration of habitats that we don’t look at very much.

“We know very little about the deep sea environment in all parts of the ocean but particularly off Australia.”

The ruby seadragon ‘holotype’, which is the irreplaceable specimen now considered the international reference point for the species, was collected in 2007 at the Recherche Archipelago near Esperance off WA’s south coast.