The Curious Strength of a Sea Sponge’s Glass Skeleton
A glass sponge found deep in the Pacific shows a remarkable ability to withstand compression and bending, on top of the sponge’s other unusual properties.
In 1841, the English biologist Richard Owen marveled at the intricate skeleton of a new sea sponge species found near the Philippines. It resembled “a delicate cornucopia,” he wrote, one woven from “stiff, glistening, elastic threads, resembling the finest hairs of spun glass.” The skeleton is indeed made of glass, which the animal, Euplectella aspergillum — nicknamed “Venus’ flower basket,” — creates using acid extracted from seawater.
Scientists still marvel at this sponge 180 years later. Its notable properties include stunning longevity — some glass sponges are thought to live many thousands of years, placing them among the longest-lived animals — and the ability to channel light through its silica strands in the manner of fiber optics.
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