Sunday, April 27, 2014

New Carnivorous Sponges
The above image shows the typical anatomy of a sponge.  These use the whip-like tails (flagella) of their collar cells to create a current of water.  This current of water allows the sponge to filter out bacteria and other food.  However, four new species of sponges (two species of Asbestopluma and two species of Cladorhiza) have adapted a different feeding strategy.  These new species inhabit the food-poor waters of the deep sea in the northeast Pacific.  Therefor it is not cost-effective for them to have this constant motion of cells to create a current.  Instead these sponges have a carnivorous feeding strategy.  When small crustaceans bump into the spiny sponge, they become trapped in their microscopic hook-like spicules.  A picture of the spicules from the species Abestopluma rickettsi can be seen below.

The sponge then proceeds to digest the crustacean.  A picture of the progressive decomposition of a crustacean by the species Asbestopluma monticola can be seen below.

These sponges are also often found in chemosynthetic habitats.  These are habitats where bacteria utilize the chemical-rich water as an energy source as opposed to sunlight.  The species Asbestopluma rickettsi was discovered in one of these habitats offshore of southern California where the bacteria use the methane that seeps from the seafloor.  Another species, Cladorhiza caillieti was discovered near a hyrothermal vent along the Juan de Fuca Ridge.  The fourth species, Cladorhiza evae was also discovered near a hydrothermal vent in the Gulf of California and is pictured below.

There is still much to learn about these sponges.  Researchers believe that these sponges may also be able to utilize the chemosynthetic bacteria as an additional energy source to the crustacean prey.  Only further research with these sponges will be able to confirm that hypothesis or not.



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