A new carnivore shaped like a candelabra has been spotted in deep ocean waters off California’s Monterey Bay.
The meat-eating species was dubbed the “harp sponge,” so-called because its structure resembles a harp or lyre turned on its side.
A team from the Monterey Bay Research Aquarium Institute in Moss Landing, Calif., discovered the sponge in 2000 while exploring with a remotely operated vehicle. The sponges live nearly 2 miles beneath the ocean’s surface.
“We were just amazed. No one had ever seen this animal with their own eyes before,” said Lonny Lundsten, an invertebrate biologist at the research institute and one of the first to see the harp sponge. [The World’s Freakiest Looking Animals]
Researchers later collected two sponges and made video observations of 10 more. Comparison with other carnivorous sponges confirmed that Chondrocladia lyra, the sponge’s scientific name, was a new species and revealed some interesting insights into the sponge’s life cycle. The results of the analysis were published Oct. 18 in the journal Invertebrate Biology. …
Velcro-like barbed hooks cover the sponge’s branching limbs, snaring crustaceans as they are swept into its branches by deep-sea currents.Once the harp sponge has its meal, it envelops the animal in a thin membrane, and then slowly begins to digest its prey.
The sponges cling to soft, muddy sediment on the ocean floor with root-like “rhizoids,” living among other mysterious creatures. The first harp sponges scientists found had only two branches, called vanes. Additional remote-vehicle dives revealed creatures with up to six vanes, Lundsten told OurAmazingPlanet. The biggest were 14 inches tall. The team believes the harp sponge evolved this elaborate, candelabra-like structure to increase the surface area it exposes to currents so it can capture more prey.
The harp sponge is one of four new species Lundsten has helped identify. “We’ve seen only 1 percent of Monterey Bay and it’s still one of the most well-studied regions of Earth in deep water,” he said. “I can look out over the waters from MBARI and imagine thousands of species out there yet to be discovered.” …