Beautiful aliens

When you think nature can’t get any more weird and wonderful, count on the deep sea to prove you wrong. Just saw this guy via I fucking love science on Facebook, and wow. What a beauty! (Figure from Lee et al., 2012)

This deep water dish drainer is a harp sponge (Chondrocladia lyra), a newly described member of a group of weird carnivorous sponges. Like so many other creatures at the bottom of the Northeast Pacific, it was captured by the cameras of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (here’s the story at MBARI’s own website). Their robotic explorers brought two of the animals to the lab for flesh and blood scientists to take apart and examine in detail, and captured several more on video.

The harp sponge’s slender branches are equipped with tiny hooks that capture small crustaceans for the sponge to engulf and digest. At the branch tips, sperm is made in those little bulbs and then released into the water. The prey-catching snare of branches also intercepts sperm, and it seems that this might trigger the maturation of eggs in the recipient (Lee et al., 2012). Making eggs only when you’ve got hold of some quality sperm is a nice way of conserving energy in a notoriously resource-poor environment!

(… and I think the creature looks totally Ediacaran, even if it doesn’t really resemble any particular Ediacaran fossil. Don’t ask how I make these associations šŸ˜› Either way, it’s gorgeous!)

Incidentally, I was googling for images of other Chondrocladia species, and quite unexpectedly I stumbled on a lovely piece of art inspired by one. This might be even cooler than space Anomalocaris:

***

Reference:

Lee WL et al. (2012) An extraordinary new carnivorous sponge, Chondrocladia lyra, in the new subgenus Symmetrocladia (Demospongiae, Cladorhizidae), from off of northern California, USA. Invertebrate Biology early view, available online 18/10/2012, doi: 10.1111/ivb.12001

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