Deepsea Glass Sponge

The skeleton of this deepsea dwelling glass sponge, Euplectella, is a lattice of silica forming a chamber that houses a mated pair of shrimp.

Deepsea dwelling glass sponge

C Bento © Australian Museum

The shrimp enter the chamber when they are small and remain within its confines. When they reproduce, their larvae migrate out of the chamber to start their own lives. This relationship has come to symbolise marriage in some Pacific cultures and the exquisite sponge, also known as The Venus Flower Basket, is given as a traditional wedding gift.

Euplectella also boasts optical properties superior to those produced by modern technology. The animal attracted attention because it appeared brighter than its murky deepsea surroundings. A study of its substructure and refractive properties found that the silica spicules from which it is formed transmit light in a similar way to commercial telecommunication fibre optics.

However, because the spicules form at low temperatures, they contain additives such as Sodium ions, that enhance their optical properties. Such additives cannot be included in commercial fibre optics because of the high temperatures used during manufacture. The spicules also contain organic braces, which make them tougher than the brittle, easily fractured commercial fibre optics.

Scientists at Bell Laboratories say they are hoping to duplicate the sponges' biological processes to produce better fibres and systems, but admit that 'modern technology cannot yet compete with some of the sophisticated optical systems of biological organisms.'


Dr Stephen Keable , Collection Manager, Marine Invertebrates
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