|Image: R Vrijenhoek, MBARI|
The Ping-pong Tree Sponge reaches around 50 cm (20 in) in height, most of this composed of a thin stalk. At its top is a peculiar array of ethereal globules at the end of stems emanating from a central body. It looks like some kind of gelatinous explosion that just sort of... stopped. As explosions go, it looks like one of the more comfortable ones.
But those blobs are nowhere near as soft or spectral as they seem. This is where we get to the FLESH EATING.
The swellings are covered in spicules, the tiny structures that form the skeleton of a Sponge. In this case they are hook shaped. Any little crustaceans that touch them are trapped, the bristly hairs on their body caught on the hooks like velcro.
Bit by bit, the Ping-pong Tree Sponge digests its food. Without a stomach or any other kind of digestive cavity, the prostrated wretch melts away on a translucent wiff-waff ball.
It's this slow-motion horror show that allows this Sponge to flourish in the deserts of the deep. As far as I can make out, they are found in the Pacific Ocean at depths of around 2,700 metres (8,860 ft).
In any case, I thought ping-pong was meant to be more fun than that?