The dandelion siphonophore, or ocean dandelion, isn't quite a flower, and it isn't quite a jellyfish — even though it looks like a little of both. It looks a bit like an anemone crossed with a dandelion, vaguely gelatinous and an appealing pale yellow color.
It's eerily beautiful and wonderfully strange, floating around the seafloor with no purpose and no brain. It's an animal, but only by the barest definition.
In fact, the ocean dandelion defies every idea we have about what constitutes an animal.
Scientists still know very little about the dandelion siphonophore, which is in part due to the fact that it's really hard to transport. The first few ocean dandelions researchers fished up from the deep sea crumpled on the way up, becoming nothing more than limp and bloated petals. So they're very hard to study.
But the real crazy thing about the ocean dandelion is its sense of self — or rather, multiple selves. As DeepSeaNews explains, the dandelion siphonophore is both one individual creature and many creatures, all at the same time.
That's because it is.
Ocean dandelions belong to the group of animals called siphonophores, which are animals that are made up of other animals. The man 'o war is also a siphonophore.
They're kind of like super-animals, working together as a colony to form one larger and more complex animal. Each individual animal within the sea dandelion has its own job, and each performs that distinct job to allow the greater animal of the sea dandelion to accomplish things that the individual animal could never do.
It's like the Karl Marx of underwater invertebrates, which is pretty cool when you think about it. Other than its peculiar division of labor, not much else is understood about the dandelion siphonophore: how long it lives, how it eats, what it eats or how it makes new ocean dandelions.