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Home > Research & Collections > News > Together Forever: a Sponge Story

Together Forever: a Sponge Story

The Venus' flower basket sponge holds a pair of “married” shrimp

The Venus' flower basket sponge is a traditional wedding gift in Japan because it often contains a pair of “married” shrimp inside it.


It looks like futuristic architecture, but this is actually the skeleton of a deepwater sponge in the NHMLA Marine Biodiversity Center. It’s called a Venus' flower basket sponge, and its intricate skeleton is made of silica — the main ingredient in glass. In life, this skeleton is covered with a thin layer of cells, and it plays host to a shrimpy love story.

a top-down view of the Venus' flower basket sponge shows the lid on the sponge that keeps shrimp from exiting
Many sponges are tube-shaped with open tops, but the Venus' flower basket sponge has a lid that doesn’t allow adult shrimp to leave their spongy home.

Small shrimp in the genus Spongicola (yes, the shrimp are named after sponges) swim through the little holes in the side of this sponge. Once inside, they eat small food particles that the sponge—a filter feeder—pulls from the ocean water. But as the shrimp grow to adulthood, they eventually are too big to fit through the sponge holes, so they’re stuck inside. Finally just a pair—one female and one male—of shrimp remain, joined together in spongy matrimony.

They spend the rest of their lives inside the Venus' flower basket sponge, protected from the predators that might otherwise find them. They continually clean the inside of the sponge, so both the shrimp and the sponge benefit from their living arrangement. When the shrimp reproduce, their tiny babies leave the sponge through its pores and set out to find a sponge—and lifelong mate—of their own.

See these interesting sponges in their natural habitat thanks to footage from the Exploration Vessel Nautilus — the same one DISCO Program Coordinator Dean Pentcheff boarded last summer.

Kathy Omura at NHMLA holds a Venus flower basket sponge in the collections of the marine biodiversity center
The Venus' flower basket sponge is one of the specimens in the NHMLA Marine Biodiversity Center, which contains many different invertebrate marine creatures, such as sponges, jellies, and corals, among others.



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