International Year of Biodiversity


A New Zealand sponge has been selected for the prestigious international Top 10 species of the year. Each year, an international Top 10 New Species selection committee selects the 10 most notable new species described from around the world.

“Our newly described deep sea carnivorous sponge Chondrocladia (Meliiderma) turbiformis has been selected, and we are pleasantly surprised,” says NIWA marine biodiversity scientist Dr Michelle Kelly. It was found on seamounts on the north Chatham Rise.

“This weird and wonderful sponge, looks like a fungus with its stalked body, and is covered with miniature ‘spinning top spicules’ rather like the things that we played with when we were kids”, says Dr Kelly.

To be in the running to win Top Ten Species the entrant species must have been officially described as new during calendar year 2009. There are thousands of entrants each year.

The New Species selection committee comprised of diverse taxonomy experts from around the world including representatives from the International Plant Names Index and the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.

Marine scientists are discovering species that are new to science all the time. The ocean is full of mysteries, unknown species, and never before seen phenomena.

Found in the darkness around 1000 metres down in the ocean, the new sponge species is quite small at 10 to 19 mm tall. They live on rocky basalt surfaces with other species of carnivorous sponges.

Sticky “c”-shaped spicules that also cover the outside of the sponge, much like sticky Velcro, catch prey such as crustaceans that brush against them. The sponge doesn’t have a mouth or a stomach, so the cells of the sponge stream toward the prey to engulf its flesh, each cell digesting a tiny part of the captured animal. “We don’t know if the spinning top spicules have any purpose – these wonderful silica structures appear to be a relic from the past – the only other sponges that are known to have them are fossils in Germany!! How amazing can sponges get?,” enthuses Kelly.

The purpose of the Top 10 New Species is to increase public awareness of biodiversity, taxonomy, museums, dried plants, and species exploration. NIWA scientist Michelle Kelly and Marseille scientist Jean Vacelet who together described this new species eagerly await the judges’ decision on 21 May.

The judges say having a high resolution and eye-catching image is extremely important. To see if NIWA scientists ‘spinning top’ sponge comes out tops, the results will be released online, 21 May at 12: 00 pm Eastern Standard Time.

To view the Top 10 page visit:


NIWA is proud to support the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. Biological diversity is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide all of us with health, wealth, food, fuel, and other vital services our lives depend on. Our own biodiversity is especially important because many of New Zealand’s species are not found anywhere else in the world. NIWA’s biodiversity and biosecurity experts are leading science to safeguard this irreplaceable natural resource and reduce biodiversity loss. For more information about the International Year of Biodiversity or to find out how you can help go to\


2010 International Year of Biodiversity logo


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