Fascinating Biology Off the Haitian Coast

While exploring the area off of Haiti, Navassa Island has proved to hold a wide range of interesting sea life. From sea cucumbers and sponges, to multicolored fish, the waters here are teeming with life.

The ROVs have been busy collecting rock, coral, water, and push core samples, and even though this journey may be focused on geology, the biology never ceases to fascinate the scientist. Here are some of the creatures we have seen in the last few dives of the Windward Passage leg of the expedition.

(via: Nautilus Live)

images: Sea Urchin, Anemone, Pelagic Swimming Sea Cucumber, Glass Sponge, and Sea Pig (Ocean Exploration Trust)

Ocean Exploration Trust)
Absurd Creature of the Week:  Carnivorous Harp Sponge
by Matt Simon
If you were a sea creature and you wanted to form a band, you’d have some tough decisions to make. Who should take vocals: dolphins or whales? And what about the drums? Presumably it’d be some sort of cephalopod, what with all those arms, but would it play on giant clams or brain corals? And good luck finding stringed instruments, unless you want to risk anaphylactic shock and strum some jellyfish.
But if you can manage it, plunge to around 10,000 feet deep and you’ll find your strings anchored right to the seafloor. This is the 3-foot-wide harp sponge, and there’s nothing quite like it on the planet. It’s hardly even a sponge as we would recognize it, having left behind the filter-feeding lifestyle and become a carnivore, passively nabbing tiny critters unlucky enough to float through its strings. Think SpongeBob SquarePants, only without the pants and with way more murder.
The remarkable image above is from 2012 when scientists, including marine biologist Henry Reiswig of British Columbia’s University of Victoria, collected two specimens and observed 10 more off the California coast using two remotely operated vehicles from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. At such depths, though, collecting good specimens is exceedingly difficult because it can take hours to return to the surface…
(read more: Wired Science)
image: MBARI

Absurd Creature of the Week:  Carnivorous Harp Sponge

by Matt Simon

If you were a sea creature and you wanted to form a band, you’d have some tough decisions to make. Who should take vocals: dolphins or whales? And what about the drums? Presumably it’d be some sort of cephalopod, what with all those arms, but would it play on giant clams or brain corals? And good luck finding stringed instruments, unless you want to risk anaphylactic shock and strum some jellyfish.

But if you can manage it, plunge to around 10,000 feet deep and you’ll find your strings anchored right to the seafloor. This is the 3-foot-wide harp sponge, and there’s nothing quite like it on the planet. It’s hardly even a sponge as we would recognize it, having left behind the filter-feeding lifestyle and become a carnivore, passively nabbing tiny critters unlucky enough to float through its strings. Think SpongeBob SquarePants, only without the pants and with way more murder.

The remarkable image above is from 2012 when scientists, including marine biologist Henry Reiswig of British Columbia’s University of Victoria, collected two specimens and observed 10 more off the California coast using two remotely operated vehicles from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. At such depths, though, collecting good specimens is exceedingly difficult because it can take hours to return to the surface…

(read more: Wired Science)

image: MBARI

wormyorchids

for-science-sake:

The Venus Flower Basket Euplectella aspergillum is a type of sponge that engineers its own fibre glass tube. Each tube usually homes a mating pair of bioluminescent shrimp, the pair enter when the are young and once they are large enough they are never able to leave, however their offspring are small enough to leave to seek a new tube and a mate.

These shrimp feed on the left overs of the filtering by the sponge and in return the sponge has its own cleaning service trapped within its walls- the light produced by the shrimp also attract and supply a rich food source for both. 

In japan these symbolise ”to death do us part” and are traditional as a wedding gift.

astronomy-to-zoology
astronomy-to-zoology:

Stove-pipe Sponge (Aplysina archeri)
…a species of Aplysinid tube sponge that occurs in the Atlantic and Caribbean, ranging from the Bahamas to Florida south to Bonaire. Like most sponges stove-pipe sponges are filter feeders, filtering the water around them for plankton and detritus as it passes by. The coloration of A. archeri is highly varied and individuals can range from brown to purple.
Classification
Animalia-Porifera-Demospongiae-Verongida-Aplysinidae-Aplysina-A. archeri
Image: Nick Hobgood

astronomy-to-zoology:

Stove-pipe Sponge (Aplysina archeri)

…a species of Aplysinid tube sponge that occurs in the Atlantic and Caribbean, ranging from the Bahamas to Florida south to Bonaire. Like most sponges stove-pipe sponges are filter feeders, filtering the water around them for plankton and detritus as it passes by. The coloration of A. archeri is highly varied and individuals can range from brown to purple.

Classification

Animalia-Porifera-Demospongiae-Verongida-Aplysinidae-Aplysina-A. archeri

Image: Nick Hobgood

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)
Happy Taxonomist Appreciation Day! While exploring the deep sea over the last 25 years, MBARI researchers have discovered and helped describe many new species, here are just a few: Clockwise from upper left: The big-fin squid, Magnapinna pacifica; bumpy jelly, Stellamedusa ventana; big red jelly, Tiburonia granrojo; bone-eating worms, Osedax spp.; the harp sponge, Chondrocladia lyra, the green siphonophore, Lilyopsis fluoracantha. Read more about all of these and more discoveries at www.mbari.org.

Happy Taxonomist Appreciation Day! While exploring the deep sea over the last 25 years, MBARI researchers have discovered and helped describe many new species, here are just a few:

Clockwise from upper left: The big-fin squid, Magnapinna pacifica; bumpy jelly, Stellamedusa ventana; big red jelly, Tiburonia granrojo; bone-eating worms, Osedax spp.; the harp sponge, Chondrocladia lyra, the green siphonophore, Lilyopsis fluoracantha.

Read more about all of these and more discoveries at www.mbari.org.

Sponges Likely Paved the Way For All Life on Earth
 by Jennifer Viegas
The seemingly lowly sponge, just by its very existence, might have paved the way for the evolution of complex life forms, including our own species, according to a new paper.
Sponges appear to have added oxygen to the deep ocean, creating an environment where more mobile, major oxygen-using animals could have evolved, holds the paper, published in the latest Nature Geoscience.
The research builds on work, presented earlier this year, which found that the most primitive sponges probably could survive in water containing very low levels of oxygen…
(read more: Discovery News)
photo: Deep Sea Expedition, 2007, NOAA-OE

Sponges Likely Paved the Way For All Life on Earth

by Jennifer Viegas

The seemingly lowly sponge, just by its very existence, might have paved the way for the evolution of complex life forms, including our own species, according to a new paper.

Sponges appear to have added oxygen to the deep ocean, creating an environment where more mobile, major oxygen-using animals could have evolved, holds the paper, published in the latest Nature Geoscience.

The research builds on work, presented earlier this year, which found that the most primitive sponges probably could survive in water containing very low levels of oxygen…

(read more: Discovery News)

photo: Deep Sea Expedition, 2007, NOAA-OE

astronomy-to-zoology

astronomy-to-zoology:

Chalice Sponge (Heterochone calyx)

Also sometimes known as the Goiter Sponge, the Chalice sponge is a species of glass sponge (Order: Hexactinellida) that occurs in deep off of the western seaboard of North America. Heterochone calyx is commonly seen growing in large “forests” on the upper portions of seamounts, where currents concentrate food particles.  Like most sponges H. calyx is a filter feeder and will filter the water around it for nutrients. 

Classification

Animalia-Porifera-Hexactinellida-Hexasterophora-Hexactinosida-Sceputrulophora-Aphrocallistidae-Heterochone-H. calyx

Images: MBARI and NOAA/MBARI

The  Cloud Sponge, Aphrocallistes vastus, is one of the most ecologically significant sponges in the North Pacific Ocean. Due to its rigid skeleton, it is an important structural component of sponge reefs. Bigmouth sculpin (Hemitripterus bolini) deposit their eggs in the spongocoel, and juvenile golden king crabs (Lithodes aequispina) use it as a refuge… Read more: Encyclopedia of LifeImage by Dan Hershman via Wikimedia Commons & Flickr

The Cloud Sponge, Aphrocallistes vastus, is one of the most ecologically significant sponges in the North Pacific Ocean. Due to its rigid skeleton, it is an important structural component of sponge reefs. Bigmouth sculpin (Hemitripterus bolini) deposit their eggs in the spongocoel, and juvenile golden king crabs (Lithodes aequispina) use it as a refuge…

Read more: Encyclopedia of Life

Image by Dan Hershman via Wikimedia Commons & Flickr

Did you know that there is such a thing as a carnivorous sponge? 
Typically, sponges feed by straining bacteria and bits of organic material from the seawater they filter through their bodies. However, carnivorous sponges snare tiny crustaceans. The species featured here are all part of the same family of sponges, the Cladorhizidae. They may look very different, but each has structures used for prey capture. 
Top: the harp sponge, Chondrocladia lyra; Middle: the golfball sponge, Chondrocladia sp.; Bottom: the branched sponge, Asbestopluma.
(via: MBARI)

Did you know that there is such a thing as a carnivorous sponge?

Typically, sponges feed by straining bacteria and bits of organic material from the seawater they filter through their bodies. However, carnivorous sponges snare tiny crustaceans. The species featured here are all part of the same family of sponges, the Cladorhizidae. They may look very different, but each has structures used for prey capture.

Top: the harp sponge, Chondrocladia lyra; Middle: the golfball sponge, Chondrocladia sp.; Bottom: the branched sponge, Asbestopluma.

(via: MBARI)

Earth’s First Animals Barely Needed Any Oxygen

by George Dvorsky

There’s a longstanding theory which says oxygen-rich oceans were a key requirement for complex life to emerge on Earth. But a new study involving sea sponges upsets this notion, showing that primitive animals may have been able to survive with hardly any oxygen at all.

The first microbes appeared on Earth about 3.6 billion years ago, but it took an exceptionally long time for complex multicellular life to emerge — another three billion years. Perhaps not coincidentally, this also happened to be the time when levels of oxygen in the atmosphere escalated to present day concentrations of about 20%. Many scientists have thus concluded that animals needed the higher levels to survive, thrive, and evolve.

But a new study by Daniel Mills of the University of Southern Denmark in Odense suggests this may not be the case. By studying modern breadcrumb sponges, Mills has threatened this assumption, while simultaneously strengthening another.

200 Times Less…

Sea sponges may not seem animal-like, but they are among the planet’s earliest animals. They’re always multicellular and they grow from an embryo. They’ve also got complex physiological structures, including a network of channels that help draw food and water through their bodies. And based on the paleontological evidence, modern sea sponges aren’t too far removed from their ancient brethren…

(read more: io9)

* Read the entire study at PNAS: “The oxygen requirements of the earliest animals.”

Image: Top: Don Dixon/Cosmographica; Mills/PNAS.
libutron
libutron:

Venus’s Flower Basket Glass Sponge | ©NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2012 Expedition
A spectacular group of Venus’s Flower Basket Glass sponges (Euplectella aspergillum)with a squat lobster in the middle, photographed in the Gulf of Mexico, North.Euplectella aspergillum is a sessile animal that protrudes from the rocky ocean bottoms. Its skeleton contains hexactine (six-rayed) siliceous spicules and in addition contains a latticework of fused siliceous spicules. This is where is gets the name “glass sponge” because quite literally it is made of glass, making it the most exquisite example of the class Hexactinellida, but also as precarious and as brittle as glass can be.
One very unique feature about the E. aspergillum is that very often you can find some abyssal shrimp within the cavity produced by the lattice structure that makes up the sponge. Sometimes young male and female shrimp enter this cavity while they are still larva and over time they begin to feed and grow. The small shrimp grow and become too large to leave the silicon cavity of the sponge. It is customary in Japanese culture to give this elegant glass sponge away as a wedding gift symbolizing the wedding vow, “Till death us do part”.
Animalia - Porifera - Hexactenellida - Lyssacinosidea - Euplectellidae - Euplectella - E. aspergillum

libutron:

Venus’s Flower Basket Glass Sponge | ©NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2012 Expedition

A spectacular group of Venus’s Flower Basket Glass sponges (Euplectella aspergillum)with a squat lobster in the middle, photographed in the Gulf of Mexico, North.

Euplectella aspergillum is a sessile animal that protrudes from the rocky ocean bottoms. Its skeleton contains hexactine (six-rayed) siliceous spicules and in addition contains a latticework of fused siliceous spicules. This is where is gets the name “glass sponge” because quite literally it is made of glass, making it the most exquisite example of the class Hexactinellida, but also as precarious and as brittle as glass can be.

One very unique feature about the E. aspergillum is that very often you can find some abyssal shrimp within the cavity produced by the lattice structure that makes up the sponge. Sometimes young male and female shrimp enter this cavity while they are still larva and over time they begin to feed and grow. The small shrimp grow and become too large to leave the silicon cavity of the sponge. It is customary in Japanese culture to give this elegant glass sponge away as a wedding gift symbolizing the wedding vow, “Till death us do part”.

Animalia - Porifera - Hexactenellida - Lyssacinosidea - Euplectellidae - Euplectella - E. aspergillum

First ever animals were made of jelly, not sponge
by Catherine de Lange
In the evolution of animal life on Earth, sponges have long soaked up the accolade of being the most primitive creature ever to have existed. Now it seems that their position at the very base of the tree of animal life is in jeopardy, thanks to the humble comb jelly. The finding may force us to reconsider our understanding of early animal evolution.
Unlike sponges, comb jellies (or ctenophores) have a primitive nervous system, are hungry predators and have complex cells also found in bilaterians – the group of animals, including humans, that have fronts, backs, an upside and a downside.

All animals around today split from a common lineage, about 650 million years ago. Although there is much debate about the early sequence of events, it is generally accepted that the first animals were ancestral sponges.

"When you’re learning about how animals evolved it’s always been that the last common ancestor to all living animals was probably very simple and that once the animals had a neural system and muscles they would never lose them," says Joseph Ryan at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland…
(read more: New Scientist)
photo of Bathocyroe fosteri, by Marsh Youngbluth/NOAA

First ever animals were made of jelly, not sponge

by Catherine de Lange

In the evolution of animal life on Earth, sponges have long soaked up the accolade of being the most primitive creature ever to have existed. Now it seems that their position at the very base of the tree of animal life is in jeopardy, thanks to the humble comb jelly. The finding may force us to reconsider our understanding of early animal evolution.

Unlike sponges, comb jellies (or ctenophores) have a primitive nervous system, are hungry predators and have complex cells also found in bilaterians – the group of animals, including humans, that have fronts, backs, an upside and a downside.

All animals around today split from a common lineage, about 650 million years ago. Although there is much debate about the early sequence of events, it is generally accepted that the first animals were ancestral sponges.

"When you’re learning about how animals evolved it’s always been that the last common ancestor to all living animals was probably very simple and that once the animals had a neural system and muscles they would never lose them," says Joseph Ryan at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland…

(read more: New Scientist)

photo of Bathocyroe fosteri, by Marsh Youngbluth/NOAA

First-Ever Submarine Dive on Vancouver’s “Living Fossils”: Glass Sponge Reefs
Researchers discover a seafloor oasis made of hundreds of glass sponges.
by Anne Casselman
Howe Sound, British Columbia—Through the submersible’s acrylic viewport, a large patch of glass sponges looms up from the seafloor of Howe Sound (map), a network of fjords located on Vancouver’s doorstep. The sponges glow creamy white and orange under the sub’s high-intensity lamps and extend across a 40-foot-high (12.2-meter-high) mound.
"Topside, topside, be advised we have sponge at this location," senior pilot Jeff Heaton says into his communication system from a depth of 135 ft (41.1 m).
"This is a sponge reef," says Heaton from inside the inch-thick (2.5-centimeter-thick) steel hull of the Aquarius submersible, a three-person vehicle owned and operated by Nuytco Research. “No doubt about it.”
This week, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Nuytco Research mounted the first submarine expedition to the glass sponge reefs found in Georgia Strait off of Vancouver.
The expedition aims to check on the status of these sponge reefs, which currently have no protection from damage by fishing activities, and to raise awareness of their existence…
(read more: National Geographic)
photo by Bruce Kirkby

First-Ever Submarine Dive on Vancouver’s “Living Fossils”: Glass Sponge Reefs

Researchers discover a seafloor oasis made of hundreds of glass sponges.

by Anne Casselman

Howe Sound, British Columbia—Through the submersible’s acrylic viewport, a large patch of glass sponges looms up from the seafloor of Howe Sound (map), a network of fjords located on Vancouver’s doorstep. The sponges glow creamy white and orange under the sub’s high-intensity lamps and extend across a 40-foot-high (12.2-meter-high) mound.

"Topside, topside, be advised we have sponge at this location," senior pilot Jeff Heaton says into his communication system from a depth of 135 ft (41.1 m).

"This is a sponge reef," says Heaton from inside the inch-thick (2.5-centimeter-thick) steel hull of the Aquarius submersible, a three-person vehicle owned and operated by Nuytco Research. “No doubt about it.”

This week, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Nuytco Research mounted the first submarine expedition to the glass sponge reefs found in Georgia Strait off of Vancouver.

The expedition aims to check on the status of these sponge reefs, which currently have no protection from damage by fishing activities, and to raise awareness of their existence…

(read more: National Geographic)

photo by Bruce Kirkby

astronomy-to-zoology

astronomy-to-zoology:

Sea Tulip (Pyura spinifera)

…a species of pyurid ascidian (sea squirt) that occurs off the coasts of New South Wales and Victoria, Australia. Like most tunicates P. spinifera is a filter feeder, filtering the water around it for nutrients and expelling out excess. P. spinifera ‘comes’ in a wide range of colors, ranging from white, pink, yellow, orange, and purple. The color is determined by the symbiotic sponge that covers the ascidian’s surface.

Classification

Animalia-Chordata-Tunicata-Ascidiacea-Pleurogona-Stolidobranchia-Pyuridae-Pyura-P. spinifera

Images: Michael McKnight and Richard Ling

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
Most animals, when chased by a predator, can run away. Not so for many coral reef animals, such as sponges and corals, that are attached to a surface and can’t move away. Instead, these sessile critters (such as the liver sponge shown here) must have other types of defenses that protect them from predators. These could include structural defenses, such as hard shells or prickly spines, or chemical defenses that make them taste bad.
 Studying these defense mechanisms could lead to the discovery of new medicines, tools for increasing seafood supply and safety, and new resources and industrial processes. Learn more about marine biotechnology: Ocean Explorer

Most animals, when chased by a predator, can run away. Not so for many coral reef animals, such as sponges and corals, that are attached to a surface and can’t move away. Instead, these sessile critters (such as the liver sponge shown here) must have other types of defenses that protect them from predators. These could include structural defenses, such as hard shells or prickly spines, or chemical defenses that make them taste bad.

Studying these defense mechanisms could lead to the discovery of new medicines, tools for increasing seafood supply and safety, and new resources and industrial processes.

Learn more about marine biotechnology: Ocean Explorer