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Scientists discover four new species of 'killer' sponges off Pacific coast

Digital writers

Saturday, April 19, 2014, 8:48 PM -

The closest most of us get to a sponge is when we're scrubbing the bathroom sink, but scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have found four new species of stone cold killer sponge waving gently from the depths of the Pacific Ocean floor. 

Scientists discovered the carnivorous sponge off the Pacific coast, including one deadly variety found hanging from the deep-sea ridges off southern Vancouver Island. 

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"A far cry from your basic kitchen sponge, these animals look more like bare twigs or small shrubs covered with tiny hairs," wrote scientists in a news release. "But the hairs consist of tightly packed bundles of microscopic hooks that trap small animals such as shrimp-like amphipods. Once an animal becomes trapped, it takes only a few hours for sponge cells to begin engulfing and digesting it. After several days, all that is left is an empty shell."

Close-up view of Asbestopluma monticola, one of four new species of carnivorous sponges discovered off the West Coast of North America. (Image: © 2006 MBARI)

Close-up view of Asbestopluma monticola, one of four new species of carnivorous sponges discovered off the West Coast of North America. (Image: © 2006 MBARI)

Two of the newly discovered species were collected by the MBARI off the California coast and another from a hydrothermal vent field in the Gulf of California off Mexico. The fourth was found on recent lava flows along the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a volcanic ridge offshore of Vancouver Island. 

Samples collected from the Canadian beast, Cladorhiza caillieti, were five to seven centimetres long and only millimetres wide, found attached to the underside of overhanging ledges of basalt more than 2000 metres below sea level. 

Reiswig and William Austin, of the Khoyatan Marine Laboratory on Vancouver Island, were enlisted by marine biologist Lonny Lundsten from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to help identify the sponges. 

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"Although it’s clear that the sponges with trapped animals were consuming their crustacean prey, the authors are looking forward to the day when they will actually get to see this process in action," added researchers. "Until then, horror-movie fans will have plenty to look forward to—as Lundsten and his coauthors noted in their recent paper, 'Numerous additional carnivorous sponges from the Northeast Pacific (which have been seen and collected by the authors) await description, and many more, likely, await discovery'." 

For additional information or images relating to the news release, click here

With files from The Canadian Press

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