In 1983, scientists first offered a public description of the previously unknown creature Nanaloricus mysticus. This was an exceptional moment in standard taxonomical history, as Nanaloricus mysticus was a new species that was a member of a new genus, a new family, a new order, a new class, and a new phylum, all at the same time.
In basic taxonomy, all species are divided up into a branching hierarchy of repeatedly more specific groups. At the most general level is the division of kingdoms, and the subdivisions of a kingdom are known as phylums, and so forth through class, order, family, genus, and species. To have a species of unknown phylum be discovered as late as 1983 was a major taxonomical find.
Since 1983, a few additional species in the phylum have been discovered, and a few others have been moved to the phylum, but it is very sparsely populated as phyla go.
Nanaloricus mysticus is a member of the animal kingdom, in the phylum Cephalorhyncha, the class Loricifera, the order Cyclorhagida, and the family Nanaloricidae. The classification of this species is a bit odd due to its relative uniqueness in the animal kingdom, as noted above.
Nanaloricus mysticus is solely found in the deep sea. It is a minute invertebrate, reaching a maximum size of 0.5mm. They live firmly attached to rocky and shelly marine substrata. Their tiny size and solid attachment to the marine bed explain their late discovery.
Loriciferans, as the class is known, have yet to be observed alive, as the only way to detach them from their spot deep in the sea is with a massive and lethal shot of fresh water, causing an osmotic effect.
The anatomy of loriciferans is also unusual. The body has a discrete head and neck surrounded by spines and miniature scales for protection. The head houses a small cavity, itself with a ring of eight small spikes surrounding the opening and a mouth. Within, the loriciferan has quite a large brain for its size, taking up as much as 25% of the size of the organism.
Also noteworthy about the loriciferan, and the feature that gives the group their name, is the lorica. The lorica is a system of hardened plates that surround most of the creature at all times, and during moments of danger, the entire organism can withdraw inside the plates.
Given that they have yet to be captured alive, little is known about their physiology or reproduction. They absorb food through their mouth, and the waste is capable of escaping through a small cone-like aperture on the opposite side of the mouth. The species also has reproductive capability, which would also presumably occur through this cone-like aperture. Nothing is known about the mechanisms, however.
Nanaloricus mysticus is a fantastic example of how modern science is continually learning new things and how the deep sea is perhaps the last truly unexplored frontier on earth.