Mesodinium chamaeleon, a strange green creature found in Denmark that lives at the bottom of the sea, is causing researchers to rethink traditional ways of classifying living organisms.
Traditionally, there are a differences between animals and plants:
Animals cannot produce their own energy and must eat other animals or plants to get energy for their survival
Plants use photosynthesis to get energy from the sun for their survival. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plant cells that enables photosynthesis to happen, and is one of the defining traits of plants Mesodinium chamaeleon does both.
Using its thousands of hairs, it moves rapidly through water, finding plants to eat – like an animal. And when it eats the plant, it becomes a plant.
By keeping the chlorophyll granules active in its stomach, Mesodinium chamaeleon uses their ability to convert sunlight into energy. This photosynthesis makes Mesodinium chamaeleon a plant.
After a while, it digests the plant and then turns back into an animal. It then goes hunting for a new plant to consume.
The sea slug Elysia chlorotica was once described as ‘a leaf that crawls’. They use straws to suck chloroplasts (sacs that contain chlorophyll) from algae and keep those chloroplasts for months, living off the energy of photosynthesis.
Till the 1970s, scientists classified living organisms as either animals or plants. Since then specialists have added three kingdoms: fungi, protozoans and algae.
Just as there are creatures that are male that turn into female, or become both to self fertilise, this complex web of life has a category of beings that are neither animals or plants or, in another way, both animals and plants.
Some animals look like plants. Others are animals that turn into plants, or, vice versa! There is no combination that Nature has not thought of first!
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