The 27 Best Deep-Sea Species: #3 Flesh Eating Sponges

#3 Family Cladorhizidae (Phylum: Porifera, Class: Demospongiae , Order: Poecilosclerida)

The number three slot is taken over by sponges that are not just happy with filter feeding.  These sponges have a taste for flesh…human flesh.  I jest, they don’t eat all humans just babies.  Seriously, these sponges go after tiny crustaceans which seem to be the tasty preference for many of the carnivores in the countdown.  From Dr. Vacelet

The prey, mostly small crustaceans and other invertebrates provided
with setae or thin appendages, is trapped on the surface of appendages
of the sponges, which is lined by tiny hook-like spicules acting as
Velcro. Then the cells of the sponge migrate towards the prey, and
individually phagocytize and digest fragment of the prey. This is a
very unusual phenomenon in pluricellular animals, a unique case in
which a non-microscopic prey is digested in the absence of any
digestive cavity. This has been investigated in one species, but is
likely general for all the carnivorous sponges (family Cladorhizidae),
which are deep-sea species usually a few cm high (not really dangerous
for a diver…).

The first species of this group was discovered recently in 1995 by scientists in French caves.  Since the initial discovery many more species have been discovered on the abyssal plains, seamounts, and virtually every other nook and cranny of the deep.  The four genera have quite different forms ranging from grass-like, to a candelabra shape, to my personal favorite a lollipop tree. 



Chondrocladia lampadiglobas. Photo courtesy of MBARI and occurs in Claire Nouvian’s The Deep


The carnivorous Asbestopluma sp (white sponge in lower right) in front of a goiter sponge.  Photo courtesy of MBARI and MBNMS


Chondrocladia koltuni. Figure from  Vacelet (2006) Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society


Chondrocladia sp.
Photo courtesy of MBARI and Craig McClain

Dr. M (1730 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

6 comments on “The 27 Best Deep-Sea Species: #3 Flesh Eating Sponges
  1. Chondrocladia lampadiglobas is one of the most spectacular creatures of the deep. I am sorry you feel otherwise.

  2. Dr. M,

    Lampa-di-globas, sounds like pidgin Spanish. I vote super gorgeous, in a 60’s Googie way.

    Please tell me the Penis Worm is going to win it all!

  3. Pingback: The Best New Species of 2009 | Deep Sea News

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