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Characteristics of harp sponge revealed

Found at depths of 3,300 to 3,500 metres, this harp sponge (Chondrocladia lyra) looks deceptively whimsical and harmless.
Characteristics of harp sponge revealed
The harp sponge.
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This would not be an accurate depiction; as scientists from MBARI discovered during their observations off the coast of California.

Called the harp sponge due to its harp-like structure, this carnivorous sponge typically feeds by straining bacteria and organic material from the seawater.

However, when a tiny crustacean wanders within reach, the animal is snared with the barbed hooks that cover the sponge's branching limbs, and is then enveloped in a thin membrane - and digested.

Besides being useful in capturing prey, its unique structure also helps it in reproduction. Swollen balls at the tip of the upright branches produce sperm packets that are released into passing currents and end up on the branches of nearby sponges.

Using MBARI's remotely operated vehicles, researchers collected two sponges and made video observations of ten more. The first specimens found had only two vanes. Over time, harp sponges with up to six vanes were found.

Scientists believe the elaborate structure of the harp sponge was evolved to increase the surface area it exposes to the currents.

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