Mushroom-Shaped Critter in Deep Sea Vexes Biologists

Animal found in 1986, only now being scientifically described

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 4, 2014 8:37 AM CDT

(Newser) – From afar, the deep-sea animal species Dendrogramma enigmatica resembles a chanterelle mushroom. Upon closer inspection, though, the creatures seem to belong to the animal, not fungi, kingdom. And yet they cannot be classified under any existing animal group, perhaps necessitating an entire rewriting of the early tree of life, not to mention how animals, neurosystems, and tissues evolved, reports National Geographic. Dendrogramma are less than an inch long and sport a flat disc that houses a forked digestive canal and a stalk with a hole at the end where food both enters and, ahem, exits.

Unfortunately, the animals, which were found in 1986 more than 3,000 feet deep in waters near Tasmania, were preserved in formaldehyde and ethanol, making it difficult if not impossible to run genetic tests and determine their closest relatives. And no subsequent dives have been able to find the elusive deep-sea dwellers. The scientists who describe the animal in Plos One are asking scientists the world over to look for more. "We published this paper in part as a cry for help," one researcher tells the BBC. "There might be somebody out there who can help place it." (In other deep-sea news, have you seen what an octopus does to guard her eggs?)

The newly described animal species Dendrogramma enigmatica
The newly described animal species Dendrogramma enigmatica   (Photo courtesy of Jorgen Olesen)
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