Attack of the Killer Sponges??

by R.L.

You probably thought that sponges (the natural kind, not the plastic knockoffs) were safe, harmless creatures that soaked up lots of water and filter-fed off microscopic nutrients. Well, that's what scientists thought too. Until now.

In the dark recesses of a shallow underwater cave in the Mediterranean, French zoologists from the University of the Mediterranean have discovered a startling new species: carnivorous sponges. The stagnant water in the cave makes filter-feeding impossible, so sponges that live there have developed passive tentacles covered with microscopic, Velcrolike hooks. These hooks snag shrimplike crustaceans that happen to swim by. Within one day after capture, new tentacles envelop the unlucky victims, essentially burying them alive. Digestion then begins.

"This is the equivalent of finding a human with gills," exclaims Michelle Kelly-Borges, a sponge expert at London's Natural History Museum. The sponge's only known relatives live on the ocean floor.But don't worry, carnivorous sponges are unlikely to inspire any bad movies: They eat only animals that are less than a half-centimeter

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gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)