Dendrogramma enigmaticaI, deep sea mushroom, new species

Photo: Jean Just/PLOS One

Scientists confirm: the deep sea is on mushrooms. Or, at least, something like that.

Seriously though, this is very strange and incredibly fascinating: A handful of strange mushroom-shaped animals discovered in the deep sea off Australia in the 1980s have finally been named by scientists. The organisms are so unique that they may rearrange the earliest branches of the animal family tree.  Um, that’s big news.

The tiny animals, less than an inch long (two centimeters) when alive, were named Dendrogramma enigmaticaI and look like chanterelle mushrooms but feel like globs of jelly. The creatures’ ‘stems’ are actually highly branched digestive canals. These animals were so unique that an entire new taxonomic family had to be created to classify them, according to a report out today (Sept. 3) in the journal PLOS ONE. 

“We don’t even know if they’re upside down,” said lead study author Jean Just, a taxonomist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

Nothing is known about their behavior including lifestyle, feeding habits, reproductive strategies, or if they are free-floating or attached to some other substrate.

Interestingly, though, while these strange creatures cannot be classified into any existing animal group, they do resemble a few long-extinct species.

Leonid Moroz, a neurobiologist at the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, says that if the new species turn out to be descendants of early animals, the find could “completely reshape the tree of life, and even our understanding of how animals evolved, how neurosystems evolved, how different tissues evolved,” he says. “It can rewrite whole textbooks in zoology.”

Read more at National Geographic

 Dendrogramma enigmaticaI, deep sea mushroom, new species

Photo: Jorgen Olesen