What the Fuck is an Ocean Mushroom?
We don’t actually fucking know. Scientists have had trouble determining the phylum of these two species, possibly because it split off early in animal evolution.
These samples were collected and preserved in 1986 at a depth of 400m while dragging a sled to collect animals dwelling on the sea floor. In 1988 an attempt was made to collect more of these samples but none were found. Findings were not published until 2014 and serve as a good lesson in the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; Jean Just, crustacean expert who initially found these ‘mushrooms’ said, “Once you think you have something really extraordinary, it takes a long time to study, read, consult left, right and center, and convince yourself that you’ve really stumbled across something special.”
The genus name Dendrogramma refers to the digestive canals. One species was called D. enigmatica, due to the mysterious nature of the creature while the other was called D. discoides, in reference to its round shape.
Dendrogramma does not resemble any living animal, though there are a few fossils with similar features. Biologists are uncertain whether organisms bearing these forms ought to be classified as animals. They do resemble fossils from the Ediacaran era which may or may not be significant; if they are they would be the first known species to survive all the way to the present. They would be a living example of a type of animal assumed to have gone extinct 500 million years ago.
Original Study: Just J, Kristensen RM, Olesen J (2014) Dendrogramma, New Genus, with Two New Non-Bilaterian Species from the Marine Bathyal of Southeastern Australia (Animalia, Metazoa incertae sedis) – with Similarities to Some Medusoids from the Precambrian Ediacara. PLoS ONE 9(9): e102976. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102976