When you think about badass deep ocean carnivores, you probably think about terrifying beasts like the anglerfish or the vampire squid. Sponges probably wouldn’t make that list, but despite their lack of ferocity, there are some deep sea sponges that are in fact carnivorous. Four new species of such sponges were recently identified far off the coast of California.
Covering these sponges’ branching arms are tiny hairs. Covering the hairs are microscopic hooks which trap tiny crustaceans like amphipods and digest them alive over the course of a few days. When the chemical carnage is over with, all that is left are the victims’ empty shells. Close up observations of the sponges show a wide range of small crustaceans in various stages of decomposition. So while they may not snap their prey out of the water and rip it apart with massive chomping teeth, their method of dealing slow death to unsuspecting amphipods means these sponges certainly belong on the list of killer deep sea creatures.
Sponges may be the structural simpletons of the oceans, but they also may have been responsible for creating a hospitable environment for life as we know it. See how early species of sponges sucked microorganisms out of the water column and allowed for large scale oxygenation of the early seas.