Weekly Sponge-date 4 – Barrel Problems

Here is some advice that will probably never come in handy. If you ever find yourself playing hide and seek in the deep sea, your best bet is to find a barrel sponge (Demospongiae). These huge beasts of barrel can reach up to 2 metres in size, far large enough to conceal a person and stump the seeking player.

A close-up of a barrel sponge while two divers swim in the background
A barrel sponge (By w:en:Aquaimages (talk | contribs) (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

However, large specimens might be considered too old for a juvenile game of hide and sponge. As they only grow 1.5cm a year, you can wager that any useful hiding sponges are over 100 years old.  They can be located at a depth range of 10-120m and come in a variety of colours, becoming paler as depth increases. Their brown, red-brown or rose-purple colouration is, in part, due to the symbiotic algae within the sponges’ tissues.

Unfortunately, you’d need a time-machine to see the largest known barrel sponge. This Barrel-rog played a bit too much hide and sponge. In its prime back in the early 90s, it was 2.5m in diameter, making it quite a celebrity in Curacao (Carribean). Sadly, fame has its price and the sheer number of admirers touching the sponge infected its tissues. By 1997, it was a mere shadow of the healthy giant that it was back in the day.

Close up of barrel sponge (Xestospongia muta)
Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia muta) By Twilight Zone Expedition Team 2007, NOAA-OE . (NOAA Photo Library: reef3860) via Wikimedia Commons

On second thoughts, maybe think twice about including barrel sponges in deep water hide and seek!

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