New species of carnivorous sponge found off New Zealand11/03/2010 09:02:12 A carnivorous sponge with ‘lip-shaped' spicules has been identified from the dark depths of the ocean.
March 2010. Found in the depths and darkness around 1000 metres down in the ocean, the new species is quite large at 8- 10 cm tall. It lives on rocky basalt surfaces with other species of carnivorous sponges.
"This unusual sponge is shaped like a large feather, whitish in colour, and is covered with lip-shaped spicules. Spicules are like tiny bones that, together with much larger spicules, form the skeleton of the sponge. The spicules give the sponge its stiffness and allow it to stand upright and to extend its filaments out like a feather into the water to catch prey," says NIWA marine biodiversity scientist, Dr Michelle Kelly.
First carnivorous sponge discovered in 1995
Species fact file
Diet: Tiny shrimp like organisms
Lifespan: Not known
Size: 8-10 cm tall
Habitat: Carnivorous sponges seem to be able to live at great depths because of their feeding habit.
There is not a lot of filterable food below 1000 m under the sea so these sponges seem to have evolved a prey capture mechanism to take advantage of these opportunities in the deep sea.
Reproduction: They are thought to incubate larvae within the stem or main part of the feather. The ectoderm (dermis) breaks down and the larvae probably swim and settle
No mouth or stomach
New Zealand appears to have high species numbers of some groups of sponges in relation to diversity elsewhere in the world's oceans. These include carnivorous sponges, rock sponges, and glass sponges. "We have discovered some pretty amazing biodiversity and evolutionary hotspots around New Zealand," says Kelly. "The only way to count, describe, manage, sustain and protect our precious marine biodiversity is by taxonomy, the differentiation of one species from the other. Taxonomy underpins all our conservation, preservation, and management efforts," says Kelly.
Dr Kelly has been studying carnivorous sponges since 2007. This project is funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.