If you have ever trusted a foe, and had the fortune of seeing a foe turn friend, then you and your new-found friend have more in common with a sea sponge and worm than you may imagine. In the ocean there exists a very unlikely relationship between would be predator and prey.
Carnivorous sponges are different from sea sponges in that they actively catch and consume prey, rather than filtering micro nutrients out of the water.
Among their prey are sea worms. They are more diverse than its terrestrial cousin the earthworm. A particular carnivorous sponge and a sea worm have learned to bury the hatchet and cooperate with one another. Let’s find out how these predators and prey became productive partners.
Watch Out It’s a Meat Eater
This carnivorous sponge, Chondrocladia robertballardi, was discovered on sea mounts located in the north-east Atlantic Ocean. Carnivorous sponges made their appearance at least 60 million years ago ( ScienceNordic). These relatively new sea sponges evolved the ability to snare and devour prey, are and devour prey, including crustaceans and sea worm.
The remoteness of their habitat make it all but impossible to reach, causing the nutrient levels to be too low for sponges to survive by filtering the water.
We are Family
Do you remember, as a child, digging up some dirt? Well, if the soil it was moist, and it was warm outside (like summer), then you probable found some earthworms – also called night crawlers. Sea worms are its cousin as they both belong to the phylum Annelida.
Sea worms (polychaetes) have one notable difference – bristles – which help them navigate their aquatic environment.
Our sea worm in question (Neopolynoe africana) is alto known as the scale worm. It’s on our carnivorous sponge’s menu – yet it is not.
Let’s Get Along
One Carnivorous Sea Sponge has found something more beneficial to do with its prey (scale worm) than eat it. It figured that cooperation will bring it more benefit than one single meal. But why would a potential prey will bury the hatchet with a predator? Let’s see.
Learning From Nature
If you have ever had the rare opportunity of turning a foe into a friend, then you have certainly reaped the benefits of friendship over animosity.
These two seemingly primitive animals have done just that. It’s amazing that without the power of thought these natural foes are able to devise a better way to exist, which favored both species. This can have great implications for all of us – if nature instinctively prefers that which benefits both animals, rather than one creature over the other, then maybe humans are meant to cooperate and seek what benefits us all, rather than one group over the other.
Rather than making this worm its next meal, this carnivorous sponge allows it to live in a furrow that it creates. So, how do they both benefit from this unusual arrangement? In order to find out there are various analyses that investigators can perform, including DNA tests and molecular techniques (Natural HIstory Museum).
Investigators speculate that the sea worm’s bio luminescence attracts prey that both animals can consume. Whatever the case may be, both specimens are being benefited.
Another sponge that engages in a symbiotic relationship with another animal is the glass sponge. This fascinating sponge allows a pair of shrimps to live inside its skeleton. The pair become trapped, but are not consumed by the glass sponge; rather, they are allowed to live there for life. Their offspring are small enough to escape, and eventually will find a new glass sponge where the cycle will begin anew.
Competition benefits the few, while cooperation is good for many. We being conscious beings can surely pay attention to nature and implement this better way to live.
Cooperation Over Competition
Cooperation is by far a better survival strategy than is competition. You would think that would be especially true for thinking beings such as ourselves.
A carnivorous sea sponge and sea worm have done just that. Naturally the worm would become the sponge’s next meal; through pure instinct, however, these two ingenious creatures have created a superior way to live to have both creatures benefit.
Investigators are trying to discover how each animal benefits from this symbiotic relationship. It could be that the worms bio luminescence attracts prey that both animals can consume. What is certain is that both creatures stand to benefit.
This is yet another lesson from nature, which we can learn much from. These two amazing creatures can’t certainly think; yet, their very instinct is enough to see the obvious. That is, cooperation can very well be a superior surviving strategy than competition.
We must make sure, whenever we face conflict, that we have not overlooked a potential beneficial solution through cooperation. I have confidence that we can indeed turn many conflicts into opportunities for cooperation and mutual growth.
A different sponge that engages in symbiotic relationship with another animal is the Glass Sponge. It allows a pair of shrimps inside its skeleton where they become trapped for life. Instead of consuming them the sponge lets then remain, grow and reproduce. Their offspring, being small enough, are able to leave the latticed skeleton only to find a new glass sponge and repeat the cycle once more.
We humans allow both competition and cooperation as part our lives. We instinctively know that cooperation brings benefit to the largest number of people when compared to competition.
Competition seems to supersede cooperation when the parties can’t or won’t see any other way. This is understandable when it involves animals, since animals can’t reason.
We on the other hand can and do reason. This means that maybe it should be more obvious to us. Sea sponges don’t stand to reason, but their experience as a species surpasses our own by hundreds of millions of years. Although the carnivorous sponge appeared more recently, it still surpasses human time on earth by tens of millions of years.
Sea sponges in general are involved in symbiotic relationships; most do so with microbes that offer the sponge protection by way of chemical defenses.
It’s difficult to ignore the outstanding success that sea sponges have had as a species, and cooperation is a common threat that runs through their members.
If we can take a page from this highly successful species, then we may stand a chance to survive the many changes that will surely come.
Do you have a friend that began as a foe? What do you think about the power of cooperation? Have you witnessed animals that are natural adversaries cooperate rather than compete? How about people that have decided that cooperation is better than strife? Please leave your comment!
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