Woah, Check Out This Sponge | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

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Woah, Check Out This Sponge

The glass rope sponge is a true marine oddity

A close-up view of the glass rope sponge’s delicate silica spindles.

 

While it looks like a blown glass art piece, it is actually an animal. It’s the glass rope sponge.

Sponges are interesting animals. Almost all of them live in the ocean, where they sit on the seafloor, pulling sea water through tube-shaped bodies and picking out food particles. They don’t even technically have mouths. They’re one of the oldest types of animals on the planet, appearing rather early in Earth’s history, and today there are about 5,000 different species.

And while we’re talking about sponges, it’s a good time to remember that kitchen sponges aren’t made from sea creatures, as most are made in factories out of plastic-like materials. And bath loofahs are actually made from fruits. You can buy real sponges for fancy bathing purposes, but do you really want to scrub yourself with a dead animal? Think about it.

Anyway, back to the glass rope sponge. This allegedly simple animal has managed to make long spindles of silica, almost like glass hair. Most skeletons in the ocean are made from calcium carbonate — think seashells. This group of sponges, though, uses silicon dioxide — think opal. It uses these spindles to anchor itself into the muck of the seafloor, and the sponge’s body floats above, filtering food from passing water. What a clever sponge.

a view of this strange sponge in its box in the collections. the body of the sponge looks brown and bulbous, and spongey, but then it has a yard-long "tail" of glassy fibers coming off to it
This individual in the Marine Biodiversity Department at NHMLA was collected off La Jolla in 1979, and is a little over three feet long.

 

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