These Are a Few of My Favorite Species: Carnivorous Sponges

Most sponges, inspiration for dish cleaners and mess absorbers, feed by filtering water through those many holes and channels.  Their scientific name, Porifera, literally means pore bearer.  The channels are lined with special cells, chanocytes, each containing a flagellum that continuously beats.  This whirling action by the flagellum filters nutrients and small particles of food from the surrounding water.  With the particles near, the cell quickly engulfs by wrapping part of its membrane around it like a puppy lost in blanket.  However, in this metaphor the puppy is digested by a dog-sized cell.

Flagellum and ingesting puppies, metaphorically speaking, is the norm for most sponges.  However, in the dark depths of oceans and in the black caverns of the marine caves, lurks Earth’s strangest creatures—the carnivorous sponges.

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This closeup could almost pass for a flower in your garden, but appears to be a sponge – probably a “carnivorous sponge” of the cladorhizids. Image captured by the Little Hercules camera at about 1000 meters depth. Image ID: expl5560, Voyage To Inner Space – Exploring the Seas With NOAA Collect Photo Date: 2010 July 5 Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010

Most sponges are composed of spicules, little shards of silica, that provide structure.  In the carnivorous sponges, Cladorhizidae, some spicules are shaped like hooks.  Unsuspecting tiny crustaceans or other animals near the sponge are often caught in the sheets of hooks that line the surface of the Cladorhizid sponges, much schmutz in Velcro.  In some Cladorhizids copepods may be caught by an adhesive surface.  Once a crustacean is caught, the cells surrounding mobilize, cover, and create a temporary cavity around the crustacean.  Within this cavity the crustacean is digested.  It’s the equivalent of mosquito being caught in your arm hairs, the skins cells then form a layer of skin over it, and finally you digest the mosquito just below the surface of the skin.

Here is the link to a Google Image search so you can see the wide variety of forms these magnificent beasties take.

 

Dr. M (1771 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. 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. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. 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 (http://deepseanews.com/), 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.


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