It is very rare that scientists discover a sea creature that does not fit within current and existing animal kingdom categories, but University of Copenhagen researchers find themselves in this position.
The University researchers have stumbled upon a creature that looks like a soft-bodied mushroom but also has an asymmetrical shape and bear similarities with coral, jellyfish, and comb jellies. At the same time, however, the new mushroom-shaped creatures are different and remarkably so. Some researchers believe that the new mushroom-shaped creatures bear similarities to three fossils of once-living creatures: Rugoconites, Anfesta, and Albumares, three creatures bearing disk-shaped bodies (like the two mushroom-shaped creatures in question) that lived around 540 million years ago in the Ediacaran period. This was right before the explosion of life forms in the Cambrian period with which scientists are rather familiar.
“Finding something like this is extremely rare, it’s maybe only happened about four times in the past 100 years. We think it belongs in the animal kingdom somewhere; the question is where,” said University of Copenhagen co-author Jorgen Olesen. University of Florida neurobiologist Leonid Moroz says that these two new species could “completely reshape the tree of life, and even our understanding of how animals evolved, how neurosystems evolved, how different tissues evolved. It could rewrite whole textbooks in zoology.”
The result of this searching to classify the two new mushroom-shaped creatures has led the authors of the study to place these two new creatures into two new specie categories within the animal kingdom: Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides.
These two new mushroom-shaped creatures were collected in an array of specimens from Australia’s Tasmanian sea (at 400 meters and 1000 meters) in 1986, but were abandoned until they were found hiding among the other specimens recently. The study, published in the Plos One journal, is really a plea for help from the study co-authors. The DNA of these two Dendrogramma species has yet to be compared to see if there are other mushroom-shaped creatures that can and will be found at a later time.
What makes this scientific discovery as exciting as all others is that it shows that science, like nature, according to some, is ever evolving.