Hey Kid, Want A Lollipop?

It looks like an avant-garde light fixture. Or perhaps a frozen firework. It is, in fact, the recently-discovered Ping-Pong Tree Sponge, a carnivorous sponge found in the deep waters around Monterey Bay.

Roll that phrase around in your mouth for a minute: “carnivorous sponge.” Most sponges are sessile, simple animals lacking any respiratory, circulatory, digestive or excretory system of their own. Instead, they let seawater do all the work for them. With no blood and almost no organs, eating whatever plankton happens to flow through them, their living tissue is merely cobwebbed into a scaffolding of silica. It is as if the animal is barely there at all.

THIS sponge, on the other hand, is free-floating, and uses its hydraulic water system to puff up its intriguing balloon-like appendages. Each one is laced with silica hooks, perfect for catching minute crustaceans. When it snags one, its “eating” cells migrate to the balloon that’s caught the food, and dissolve it. It’s a perfectly geometric predator. In some ways, it reminds me of the carnivorous sundew plant, which attracts insects to its lollipop-like lures, where they become stuck and then digested. Something about brainless carnivores with mouths on all sides gives me the willies, in a good way.


About quantumbiologist

Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

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