Killer sponges sound like creatures from a B-grade horror movie. In fact, they thrive in the lightless depths of the deep sea.
Scientists first discovered that some sponges are carnivorous about 20 years ago. Since then only seven carnivorous species have been found in all of the northeastern Pacific. A new paper authored by MBARI marine biologist Lonny Lundsten and two Canadian researchers describes four new species of carnivorous sponges living on the deep seafloor, from the Pacific Northwest to Baja California.
A large group of Asbestopluma monticola sponges growing on top of a dead sponge at Davidson Seamount, offshore of the Central California coast.
Image credit: © 2006 MBARI.
A far cry from your basic kitchen sponge, these animals look more like bare twigs or small shrubs covered with tiny hairs. But the hairs consist of tightly packed bundles of microscopic hooks that trap small animals such as shrimp-like amphipods. Once an animal becomes trapped, it takes only a few hours for sponge cells to begin engulfing and digesting it. After several days, all that is left is an empty shell.
MBARI researchers videotaped the new sponges on the seafloor, then collected a few samples for taxonomic work and species-reference collections. Back in the lab, when they looked closely at the collected sponges, the scientists discovered, as Lundsten put it, “numerous crustacean prey in various states of decomposition.”
Sponges are generally filter feeders, living off of bacteria and single-celled organisms sieved from the surrounding water. They contain specialized cells called choancytes, whose whip-like tails move continuously to create a flow of water which brings food to the sponge. However, most carnivorous sponges have no choancytes. As Lundsten explained, “To keep beating the whip-like tails of the choancytes takes a lot of energy. And food is hard to come by in the deep sea. So these sponges trap larger, more nutrient-dense organisms, like crustaceans, using beautiful and intricate microscopic hooks.”
The spikiness of two these new sponges is reflected in the name of their genus—Asbestopluma. One of these, Asbestopluma monticola was first collected from the top of Davidson Seamount, an extinct underwater volcano off the Central California coast (monticola means “mountain-dweller” in Latin).
A second new species, Asbestopluma rickettsi, was named after marine biologist Ed Ricketts, who was immortalized in John Steinbeck’s book, Cannery Row. This sponge was observed at two locations offshore of Southern California. At one of these spots, the sponge was living near colonies of clams and tubeworms that use bacteria to obtain nutrition from methane (natural gas) seeping out of the seafloor. Although A. rickettsi has spines, the researchers did not see any animals trapped on the specimens they collected. Ongoing research suggests that this sponge, like its “chemosynthetic” neighbors, can use methane-loving bacteria as a food source.
The third and fourth new species of carnivorous sponges were also observed near communities of chemosynthetic animals. However these communities were associated with deep-sea hydrothermal vents, where plumes of hot, mineral-rich water flow out of the seafloor.
One new species, Cladorhiza caillieti, was found on recent lava flows along the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a volcanic ridge offshore of Vancouver Island. The fourth sponge, Cladorhiza evae, was discovered far to the south, in a newly discovered hydrothermal vent field on the Alarcon Rise, off the tip of Baja California. Specimens of both these sponges had numerous prey trapped among their spines.
Although it’s clear that the sponges with trapped animals were consuming their crustacean prey, the authors are looking forward to the day when they will actually get to see this process in action. Until then, horror-movie fans will have plenty to look forward to—as Lundsten and his coauthors noted in their recent paper, “Numerous additional carnivorous sponges from the Northeast Pacific (which have been seen and collected by the authors) await description, and many more, likely, await discovery.”
Link to on-line version of news release:
Link to images associated with this news release:
MBARI YouTube Video about this release:firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Fulton-Bennett | MBARI
A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Information Technology