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Microscopic marvel: the hairy tube sponge

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Microscopic marvel: the hairy tube sponge

Ashwyn Davis is a visitor guide at the Two Oceans Aquarium. As a part of his day-to-day work, Ashwyn teaches members of the public about the interesting, but tiny ocean life that can only be seen under the microscope in our Skretting Diversity Gallery. Manning this station, Ashwyn has seen some pretty unusual animals - and would like to share a few with you!

Today's microscopic marvel - Spongebob Squarepants? Nope, it's thehairy tube sponge!

Hairy tube sponges (Sycon spp.) belong to the phylum Porifera, which means "pore bearer" in Latin. Porifera are one of the major groupings of Animalia (that's right, they are animals), and they are actually the oldest group of animals, branching off the Tree of Life even earlier than jellies.

These tube sponges generally grow attracted to seaweeds, hydroids and bryozoans or in gullies, caves and on vertical rock-faces in the marine ecosystem - all these microhabitats allow them to be exposed to the flow of water. Their body structures are small, erect tube or vase-shapes, reaching roughly 10mm in width. This shape allows water to pass into them through their spongey sides, and out through the central opening at the end of the tube.

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What separates hairy tube sponges from other sponges is the crown of stiff spicules and "fuzzy" coating of hair-like papillae along their sides. These play a role in trapping tiny plankton and food particles for the sponge to digest, and the sharp points of the sponge's silica spicules deter grazers and parasites from taking advantage of it. 

When you take your time to look at creatures in nature you will find out how fascinating they really are - so always remember to lean in for a closer look at the Two Oceans Aquarium!

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