September 14, 2014

Meet Dreadnoughtus and Dendrogramma, New Species Great and Small

by Christine Hoekenga

Last week, scientists announced two incredible discoveries of new species, one an enormous land animal and the other a tiny marine creature.

Researcher with skeleton of Dreadnoughtus schrani

Researcher Kenneth Lacovara with the skeleton of Dreadnoughtus schrani. Image: Kenneth Lacovara

Measuring nearly 26 meters in length, Dreadnoughtus schrani was the one of the largest animals to ever roam the Earth. Scientists call it a “supermassive” dinosaur and estimate that it weighed as much as seven Tyrannosaurus rex. Dreadnoughtus was an herbivore belonging to the group of large plant-eaters known as titanosaurs. Its huge fossilized skeleton, which was discovered in Argentina, is more than 70 percent complete, giving us the clearest evidence to date of what these huge animals looked like and how they moved.

Measuring less than two centimeters and bearing a striking resemblance to mushrooms, Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides, are less intimidating but every bit as interesting from a biodiversity perspective. The researchers who described these two new species–which may represent an entirely new phylum–published their findings 28 years after the specimens were collected from deep waters off the coast of Australia. Having been in museum storage, transported, nearly dried out, and then accidentally bathed in 100 percent alcohol, the specimens are brittle but still in good enough shape for scientists to study them closely. Although they appear to be related to cnidarians (jellyfish, corals and other stinging sea life) or ctenophores (comb jellies), the researchers are uncertain about their exact place in the tree of life. They are being described as incertae sedis, which is Latin for “of uncertain placement.”

Dendrogramma, newly discovered species from the deep sea. Image: J. Olesen

Both discoveries are good reminders that we still have much to learn about Earth’s biodiversity–past and present.

For more about how we classify and name organisms, check out our modules Taxonomy I: What’s in a Name and Taxonomy II: Nomenclature

Learn more about the researchers who uncovered Dreadnoughtus and see pictures of its fossilized bones

Read the PLOS One paper describing Dendrogramma and browse more photos of these “sea mushrooms”

Christine Hoekenga

Written by

Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.

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