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The harp sponge: an extraordinary new species of carnivorous sponge

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Published on Oct 31, 2012

In this video we describe a new species of carnivorous sponge, Chondrocladia lyra from the deep-sea off California. C. lyra is called the harp sponge because its basic structure, called a vane, is shaped like a harp or lyre. Each vane consists of a horizontal branch supporting several parallel, vertical branches.

Clinging with root-like "rhizoids" to the soft, muddy sediment, the harp sponge captures tiny animals that are swept into its branches by deep-sea currents. Typically, sponges feed by straining bacteria and bits of organic material from the seawater they filter through their bodies. However, carnivorous harp sponges snare their prey—tiny crustaceans—with barbed hooks that cover the sponge's branching limbs. Once the harp sponge has its prey in its clutches, it envelops the animal in a thin membrane, and then slowly begins to digest it.

The harp sponge's unusual shape and exposure to currents may also help it to reproduce more effectively. The swollen balls at the tip of the sponge's upright branches produce packets of sperm. These sperm packets are released into passing currents and are captured on the branches of other nearby sponges. The sperm then works its way from the packets into the host sponge to fertilize its eggs. As the fertilized eggs mature, these contact sites swell up, forming bulges part way up the host sponge's branches (see photo).

MBARI article: http://www.mbari.org/scientists-disco...

Publication reference:
Lee, W. L., Reiswig, H. M., Austin, W. C. and Lundsten, L. (2012), An extraordinary new carnivorous sponge, Chondrocladia lyra, in the new subgenus Symmetrocladia (Demospongiae, Cladorhizidae), from off of northern California, USA. Invertebrate Biology. doi: 10.1111/ivb.12001

Web link to the article: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10...

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