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 (1720 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

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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