Friday, November 9, 2012

Sculptural sponge

Yep, you read that title right. This is not a sculpture (or a musical instrument), but a newly discovered carnivorous creature dubbed, appropriately, the harp sponge. The story begins in 1995, when Jean Vacelet and Nicole Boury-Esnault from the Centre of Oceanology at France’s Aix-Marseille University identified a new species of deep-sea sponge living in a shallow Mediterranean sea cave that actively catches prey of small fish and crustaceans instead of absorbing bacteria and organic particles through their bodies. Since then, 24 new species of carnivorous sponges have been discovered. To learn about their behavior, including how they reproduce, 2 remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute descended...and made the latest discovery! The symmetrical sponge - given the scientific name Chondrocladia lyra - was living off the coast of California at depths of 3316–3399m. It can grow up to 37cm long with as many as 6 vanes (the basic vertical and horizontal structures projecting from the middle) that are covered in barbed hooks and spines that snare the prey. Each of the vertical branches ends in a round spermatophore that releases sperm in the hope that it will travel through the water and fertilize other harp sponges in the area.
The real thing:

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