Weekly Sponge-date 3 – BioSponge Infinite

To say that sponges are old is the understatement of the era. They made their entrance on to earth about 600-800 million years ago. Talk about arriving to the party early. One particularly keen party sponge is so mysterious, it does not appear to have a common name. It is only known as Monorhaphis chuni. This deep sea sponge is unique in that it forms a spicule pillar that can reach up to 3m long! It uses this to anchor itself to the sediments below.

Spicule pillar of Monorhaphis chuni (Courtesy of Xiaohong Wang, Lu Gan, K P Jochum, H C. Schröder, and W E G Müller, from "The largest bio-silica structure on earth: the giant basal spicule from the deep-sea glass sponge Monorhaphis chuni," Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, article ID 540987, 2011, under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.)
Spicule pillar of Monorhaphis chuni (Courtesy of Xiaohong Wang, Lu Gan, K P Jochum, H C. Schröder, and W E G Müller, from “The largest bio-silica structure on earth: the giant basal spicule from the deep-sea glass sponge Monorhaphis chuni,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, article ID 540987, 2011, under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.)

So how long-lived is this wise old sponge of the deep? Well, as amazing as sponges are, they cannot communicate their age without being dissected. A standard sponge aging method involves counting the dark and light rings in the sponges’ skeleton (much like aging a tree). Another way is to estimate the amount of the isotope Silicon-32 decaying within the siliceous sponges’ spicules (try saying that in a hurry!). However, these methods would not work on this spongey customer.

Fortunately, a group of scientists (Peter-Jochum et al., 2012) came up with the clever method of working out the sea temperature at the beginning of its life span. To do this, they studied an extraordinarily large spicule that was discovered 1100m deep in the East China Sea. Using the oxygen isotopic composition and Mg/Ca ratios of the spicule, they estimated that the sea temperature was 1.9 degrees when this sponge was…well…a young sponge. By comparing that to the relatively tropical temperature of 4 degrees nowadays, the scientists predicted that the spicule had been around for 11, 000 years!!.. Well give or take 3000 years, but hey, cut those hard-working nerds some slack!

Not only does this make this sponge one of the longest living animal species still in existence, its skeleton tells a tale that makes lord of the rings look like a comic book. It weaves a story of previously unknown climate change such as deep sea temperature fluctuations over millions of years. Think that the sponge information out there is saturated? This gives reason to believe that there is so much more to learn from sponges!

Weekend Sponging – Unsung Sponges

To “sponge” off somebody is frowned upon. A lazy layabout comes to mind – someone who is not willing to pull their weight and has to rely on the work or gains of other people. I think this is a very unfair use of the word “sponge”. As sessile and inactive as they look, sponges rarely stop working if the conditions are suitable. In fact, they are continuously pumping water through their system at an incredible rate. They are capable of pumping a volume of water equal to their own body volume every 5 seconds!

So next time someone accuses you of “sponging”, don’t get offended – get angry. Angry that they used the term “sponge”. Then maybe show them the video below which, by the clever use of dye, reveals the hard work carried out by sponges everywhere.

Youtube clip uploaded by ProfessorZurawski

Weekly Sponge-date 2 – The Harpbringer of Death

Think that every sponge is a happy, water-pumping shrimp-harbouring hippy? You clearly have not met the “Harp sponge” (Chondrocladia lyra).  Despite its relatively tame name, the only tune that this sponge can play is the funeral march as crustacean after crustacean meets their demise. In fact, the only resemblance this sponge has to a harp is its shape, which is specialised to catch as much prey as possible. Never fear, you’ll not encounter this “harpbringer” of doom unless you happen to be taking a casual swim at a depth of 3300m.

The human race was blissfully unaware of this monstrosity until 2012 when it was discovered by a group of scientists, causing lack of sleep for sponge enthusiasts the world over. Of course, not everyone fears harp-shaped killer sponges as I do. This sponge has actually been listed as one of the top ten species discovered in 2012, outcompeting 140 nominated species. Would I get an award if sat around ensnaring innocent crustaceans on Velcro-like hooks? I don’t think so. Though it has to be said, the ability of this sponge to ensnare and engulf captured prey by surrounding them in a digestive membrane is somewhat impressive (if a bit intimidating).

Some of the more foolharpy of you may wish to watch the above youtube clip uploaded by “LiveScienceVideos”.

Weekend Sponging

Worried about my weird obsession with sponges? Or perhaps you are a fellow sponge enthusiast and you want something to make yourself feel a bit more “normal”? Well fear not, for we are not alone. Sir David Attenborough himself has a great passion for sponges, in all their spongy glory. Click the link below and watch to justify your interest in this blog:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p010nrzh

Photo of Sir David Attenborough
Picture of Sir David Attenborough (originated from Wikicommons, author: Mikedixson)

Lo and behold, he is in fact talking about this weeks iconic sponge -the Venus Flower Basket. You can read about this sponge in the post below. Instead of focusing on the sponge’s association with shrimps, he details their amazing ability to produce complex lattices out of siliceous spicules.

Weekly Sponge-date 1

Good Sponge Everyone! My name is SamSolo93 and I shall be studying deep sea sponges for weeks to come. Every week, I am going to give the world information about an iconic sponge or some interesting facts about sponges in general. Join me as I go a bit sponge mad and revel in the  sponge mania.

Todays iconic sponge is the Venus Flower Basket (Euplectella aspergillum).

Venus_Flower_Basket 2
Venus flower-basked (Euplectella aspergillum).

This glass sponge inhabits the deep sea and tends to provide a home for two shrimps. That’s right, these sponges actually allow a male and female shrimp to live out their lives in a sponge (if they are in to that sort of thing!). The sponge also provides the shrimps with a delicious meal of it’s own waste. After the couple reproduces, their young are released to find a Venus Flower Basket of their very own.

So what’s in it for the sponge? It’s all very well making a couple of shrimps happy, but sometimes a sponge needs something in return. Naturally, any self-respecting shrimp wants to keep their household tidy and this spring clean provided by the shrimps are what make this shrimp-shrimp-sponge relationship work!

The shrimps and the sponge is such a beautiful story that it has captured the imagination of many. The dry husk of a formal shrimp home is given as a traditional wedding gift in some Asian communities. Join us next week for another iconic sponge!