Back in 1986, a group of Danish scientists discovered a species of sea creature that has never been seen before or after that. Almost 28 years after their discovery, the hitherto unnamed species have been given formal names, reports The Independent. Back then, the Danish team had unearthed two distinct species of what in simple terms could be called a sea mushroom. The two species have been named Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides. Both come under the new genus called Dendrogramma and are the sole creatures that are known to belong to this new kind of life form.
The creatures were found nearly 3200 feet below the ocean. Both the creatures measure less than 20 mm and are only slightly smaller than your average mushroom. Upon closer examination of the specimen, the Danish team had problems classifying the species into a genus that already exists. While the creatures look like a relative of animals belonging to the phylum Ctenophora which include the comb jellies and their relatives, they also had features that are consistent with Phylum Cnidaria – which include sea anemones, corals, and jellyfish. It was deduced that these creatures fit into neither categories because Ctenophora creatures are known for small hair like features called cilia while the Cnidarians are known to possess tentacles, sensory organs and radiating canals. The Dendrogrammans had neither of these distinguishing characteristics.
According to Jean Just from the University Of Copenhagen and the coauthor of the paper that talks about this new species, this is their central conundrum.
“They are at the base of the Tree of Life together with Cnidaria and Ctenophora, but they lack the defining characteristics of those two major Phylae,” Jean says.
For all its mysteriousness, a closer look at the Dendrogammae reveals that it is quite a simple organism says the Australian Geographic. It features a single opening at the base of its “stem” which is used to ingest food and excrete waste. The mushroom like head of the creature is where the tube coming from the stem branches out into a series of canals.
In the end, the researchers had no other option left other than to classify these creatures under a new category of Phylum in the Animalia kingdom. And thus was born the Dendrogrammae.
All said, it is pertinent to note that while these creatures do not share characteristics that are seen on any other living creatures human know of, there have been creatures in the Precambrian era that did have similar characteristics. These group of animals were classified under a group known as the Ediacara. For ages, it was thought that the Ediacara was nature’s “failed experiment.” Could it be possible that the mysterious sea mushrooms are the modern descendants of an ancient species? Or does it have an alien connection?
In the 1986 expedition, the scientists had managed to get a total of 18 specimens of these mysterious creatures. Unfortunately, these were not ideally preserved, and they have completely shrunk and are not fit for molecular analysis in their current state. What is even sadder is the fact that they have not managed to sight these creatures again!
[Images Via The Independent]