Venus’ Flower Basket, Euplectella aspergillum

Venus’ Flower Basket (Euplectella aspergillum) is a species of hexactinellid sponge found in the deep ocean. It is found with a male and female shrimp living inside it, which spend their lives living in just one sponge basket. Because of this, Asian cultures use the dead, dried sponge as a wedding present to signify the symbiotic relationship of the sponge and shrimp.

The shrimp that make their home inside the basket reproduce and their offspring escape and find their own sponge to call their home. These shrimp clean the basket, and in return are provided food by the sponge, trapping particles in its fiber-like strands, and then releasing it into the body of the sponge for the shrimp.

The bioluminescent light from the bacteria found on the surfaces of this sponge also attract other organisms that are eaten by the shrimp as well.

The glassy fibers that attach the sponge to the ocean floor are 2 to 8 inches in length and are as thin as a human hair. These fibers are of particular interest to fiber optic researchers. The sponge extracts silicic acid from seawater and converts it into silica, then forms it into an elaborate skeleton of glass fibers. Currently, the manufacturing process for optical fibers requires high heat and produces a rather brittle fiber. Researchers believe by using a lower temperature to create and arrange fibers, with inspiration from the sponges, it could lead to more control over optical properties of the fibers.

These nano-structures are also potentially useful for the creation of more efficient, low-cost solar cells.

The remarkable geometric patterns and configurations of these sponges have been extensively studied. Scientists have found that because of their stiffness, they yield great strength, with minimal crack propagation. An aluminum tube — having similar elastic properties to glass — of equal length, effective thickness, and radius, but homogeneously distributed, has only 1/100th the stiffness.

Image Caption: Venus’ Flower Basket (Euplectella aspergillum). Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration/Wikipedia