Chondrocladia Lyra a Harp-Shaped Carnivorous Sponge

Extraordinary harp-shaped carnivorous sponge discovered living on the Pacific Ocean floor | Mail Online

  • Chondrocladia lyra lives at depths of 11,000ft of the coast of California
  • Marine biologists discovered it using remote-control deep-sea vehicles
  • It traps traps and eats tiny crustaceans using hooks on its branching limbs
Marine biologists scouring the seabed have discovered an new species of carnivorous sponge that bears a remarkable resemblance to a harp or lyre.

A team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, California, found the weird deep-sea predator off their state's northern coast.

They named the new species Chondrocladia lyra - or harp sponge - because the basic structure of its body is shaped like the musical instrument.

Scientists describe extroardinary new carnivorous sponge

Clinging with root-like "rhizoids" to the soft, muddy sediment, the harp sponge captures tiny animals that are swept into its branches by deep-sea currents. Typically, sponges feed by straining bacteria and bits of organic material from the seawater they filter through their bodies. However, carnivorous harp sponges snare their prey—tiny crustaceans—with barbed hooks that cover the sponge's branching limbs. Once the harp sponge has its prey in its clutches, it envelops the animal in a thin membrane, and then slowly begins to digest it.

The harp sponge's unusual shape and exposure to currents may also help it to reproduce more effectively. The swollen balls at the tip of the sponge's upright branches produce packets of sperm. These sperm packets are released into passing currents and are captured on the branches of other nearby sponges. The sperm then works its way from the packets into the host sponge to fertilize its eggs. As the fertilized eggs mature, these contact sites swell up, forming bulges part way up the host sponge's branches (see photo).