Chondrocladia lyra is a highly unusual and very specialized sponge living in the deep sea which completely redefines what we think a sponge should be. Also known as the harp sponge due to its very similar appearance consisting of a main vane and upright stalks, the unique ecology of Chondrocladia lyra imparts on it a rather unique morphology. Much like the carnivorous venus flytraps and sundew plants, the harp sponge is specially adapted to catch little living animals drifting by in the deep sea current.
Whereas the sundew is designed to have numerous little drops of sticky sap in which to trap insects, the harp sponge is covered with extremely fine hair like projections which bare numerous tiny hooks. These little silicate projections of sponges are called spicules and in the harp sponge these hooks are so well designed and sharp that they act very much like velcro to little critters and organic matter floating by. As sinister as the harp sponge appears, it goes without saying that its specialized lifestyle has lead to quite a beautiful animal.
The curious harp sponge was discovered living on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean at depths that only remotely operated vehicles (ROV) can reach by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. In addition to having specialized spicules, the male and female sex ‘organs’ of the harp sponge are easily distinguishable on the living animals, as well as the long projections called rhizoids which anchor the harp sponge in the soft sediment. It’s been said time and again that we know more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the oceans and the more we explore our own underwater realm the more we are going to find extraordinary ‘aliens’ living right here on our own planet.
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