Biologists discover four new species of carnivorous sponge

Biologists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute recently discovered four new species of carnivorous sponges, including Asbestopluma monticola, above. The scientists report that the twiglike sponges, growing near deep-sea vents and undersea volcanoes off the West Coast, use microscopic hooks to snare tiny crustaceans and then slowly eat them, using specialized enzymes. “Once an animal becomes trapped, it takes only a few hours for sponge cells to begin engulfing and digesting it,” the institute said in a statement. “After several days, all that is left is an empty shell. . . . Killer sponges sound like creatures from a B-grade horror movie. In fact, they thrive in the lightless depths of the deep sea.” Seven other species of carnivorous sponges had been identified previously.


Close-up view of Asbestopluma monticola, one of four new species of carnivorous sponges discovered off the West Coast of North America. (MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM RESEARCH INSTITUTE)

A large group of Asbestopluma monticola sponges growing on top of a dead sponge at Davidson Seamount, Central California coast. (MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM RESEARCH INSTITUTE)

A group of Cladorhiza evae sponges growing near a hydrothermal chimney along the Alarcon Rise, off the tip of Baja California. (MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM RESEARCH INSTITUTE)

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