15 paratypes of the new mushroom-shaped Dendrogramma genera. Image Credit: Supplied

New mushroom-shaped species stump scientists

  • BY AAP with AG Staff |
  • September 04, 2014

Deep-sea organisms shaped like mushrooms defy any current classification systems

NEW MUSHROOM-SHAPED creatures found in the ocean depths off Australia are unlike anything scientists have ever seen.

Two species of the strange organisms were found that could not be placed in any existing phyla, the large families of living things that include vertebrates and flowering plants.

The animals, known as Dendrogramma, consist mainly of an outer skin and inner stomach separated by a dense layer of jelly-like material.

"Current evidence suggest that they represent an early branch on the tree of life, with similarities to the 600 million-year-old extinct Ediacara fauna," said Danish lead scientist Dr Jorgen Oleson, from the University of Copenhagen. 

Strange mushroom-shaped organisms

Scientists suspect the new creatures may have represented a failed early attempt at multicellular life and have suggested a new Family classification, Dendrogrammatidae. 

The species have similarities to the Ctenophora (comb jellies) and Cnidaria (jellyfish, coral and other stingers) phyla, but they lack tentacles, cilia and other similar features. 

The organisms were discovered in a collection of organisms dredged up from depths of 400M and 1000m on the Australian continental slope, off eastern Bass Strait and Tasmania during a cruise in 1986. 

Researchers have only now isolated the two species of Dendrogramma described in the latest edition of the online journal PLoS ONE.

The species have been named Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides.

A new attempt may now be made to find other specimens of the mushroom animals.