The Glass Sponge

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 by Caroline Casals

Monorhaphis chuni is a pretty amazing creature. When you think of deep sea animals, images of giant jaws, bulbous faces, strange bioluminescence and glazed eyes probably flash through your head. M. chuni is none of those things. You might even call it graceful. You should call it ancient.

This sponge survives by filtering out passing plankton and other drifting debris.  By building a tall stalk, the sponge is able to feed in the faster moving currents just above the sea floor.  This long stalk, up to 9 feet tall (3m), is also incredible because it’s made of glass. That’s right, this sponge makes a pillar of glass to stand up on!

There are a few other organisms that can make glass structures, brown algae called diatoms in particular, but the glass sponge makes the largest glass structures by far.  These pillars take ages to make, one specimen was found to between 8,000 - 14,000 years old!  To put that in perspective, that's right around the dawn of human civilization.

This slow growth means that scientists can use the stalks as a sort of ancient deep sea climate record. Each growth ring in the stalk records the water conditions of when it was grown. Pretty cool, huh?

To learn more about the glass sponge, check out the links below:

Deep Sea News

Student made info sheet

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