Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Gray blobs floating after Hurricane Irene identified as potato sponges

Date:
September 11, 2011
Source:
Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS),College of William and Mary
Summary:
Most of Hurricane Irene's impacts -- heavy rain, high winds, downed trees, coastal erosion, and storm-tide flooding -- are all too familiar to the storm-weary residents of Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern seaboard. But based on post-storm queries to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, Virginia, one impact remains a mystery -- what are all those "gray blobs" floating atop waterways and strewn along beaches?

The interior of a potato sponge that was dislodged from the floor of Chesapeake Bay by Hurricane Irene.
Credit: Michael Moore

Most of Hurricane Irene's impacts -- heavy rain, high winds, downed trees, coastal erosion, and storm-tide flooding -- are all too familiar to the storm-weary residents of Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern seaboard.

Related Articles


But based on post-storm queries to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, Virginia, one impact remains a mystery -- what are all those "gray blobs" floating atop waterways and strewn along beaches?

Blob reports and queries have been streaming into VIMS since Irene passed by on the last weekend of August. The blobs -- encountered by boaters and beachgoers from tidewater Virginia to Long Island -- have been described as being of "various sizes," with the smallest "around the size of a baseball." Reports of their texture range from "kind of rubbery or leathery" to "kind of soft." They've also been described as "ash gray" and "foul smelling." Cathy Hopkins of Hampton, Virginia reports that they're "pretty gross."

Theories about what the objects might be are as numerous as the incoming reports: Old crab floats? Sewage? Tar balls? Ambergris from whales? Sea turtles?

VIMS professor Emmett Duffy has a simpler explanation. "They're potato sponges" says Duffy, a self-professed "friend of the sponges" who is known in marine science circles for his discovery of complex, cooperative societies among sponge-dwelling Caribbean shrimp.

Duffy explains that like other sponges, potato sponges make a living by filtering microscopic food from seawater. They draw the water into and through channels in their porous bodies by the beating of countless tiny hairs (flagella) on their cells.

Potato sponges, which comprise a diverse group within the genus Craniella, are normally inconspicuous animals (yes, they are animals) that inhabit shallow coastal habitats around the world, growing to about the size of a soccer ball. They look like, well, potatoes and attach to the seafloor with a network of protein fibers and glassy, needle-like "spicules" that form something like an anchor.

But when weather conditions cause large waves and strong currents to scour the seafloor, they can dislodge large numbers of these sponges, freeing them to float to the surface and wash ashore. Clogged with storm debris and no longer able to filter feed, the sponges die. Then they start to smell as decay and bacteria move in to consume the carbohydrates and collagen that form their body.

Potato sponges are not poisonous -- Dr. Duffy even found a recipe for potato sponge cake on the Food Network (but it turned out to require regular potatoes). Nevertheless, VIMS scientists caution people to avoid touching them as a precaution.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS),College of William and Mary. The original article was written by David Malmquist. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS),College of William and Mary. "Gray blobs floating after Hurricane Irene identified as potato sponges." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110910133948.htm>.
Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS),College of William and Mary. (2011, September 11). Gray blobs floating after Hurricane Irene identified as potato sponges. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 5, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110910133948.htm
Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS),College of William and Mary. "Gray blobs floating after Hurricane Irene identified as potato sponges." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110910133948.htm (accessed March 5, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Praying Mantis Looks Long Before It Leaps

Praying Mantis Looks Long Before It Leaps

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 5, 2015) — Slowed-down footage of the leaps of praying mantises show the insect&apos;s extraordinary precision, say researchers. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Octopus Grabs Camera and Turns It Around On Photographer

Octopus Grabs Camera and Turns It Around On Photographer

Buzz60 (Mar. 5, 2015) — A photographer got the shot of a lifetime, or rather an octopus did, when it grabbed the camera and turned it around to take an amazing picture of the photographer. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ringling Bros. Eliminating Elephant Acts

Ringling Bros. Eliminating Elephant Acts

AP (Mar. 5, 2015) — The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its iconic elephant acts. The circus&apos; parent company, Feld Entertainment, told the AP exclusively that the acts will be phased out by 2018 over growing public concern about the animals. (March 5) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tourists Visit Rare Grey Whales in Mexico

Raw: Tourists Visit Rare Grey Whales in Mexico

AP (Mar. 4, 2015) — Once nearly extinct, grey whales now migrate in their thousands to Mexico&apos;s Vizcaino reserve in Baja California, in search of warmer waters to mate and give birth. Tourists flock to the reserve to see the whales, measuring up to 49 feet long. (March 4) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins