11 Apr 2023

New Zealand ballerina sponge named in top 10 newly-described marine species list

5:25 pm on 11 April 2023
Illustration of latrunculia tutu, ballerina sponge, from 1892.

Illustration of latrunculia tutu, ballerina sponge, from 1892. Photo: Supplied / NIWA

A fossilised ballerina sponge from Aotearoa has been named as one of the top newly described marine species of 2022.

The 35-million-year-old specimen was selected out of 2000 newly described species for the World Register of Marine Species annual top 10 list.

While it was illustrated in a paper written in 1892, it was only last year that NIWA taxonimists Carina Sim-Smith and Michelle Kelly used that illustration to describe the species.

It came about as part of the organisation's reference work series, which captures studies of New Zealand's distinctive marine fauna and flora.

Latrunculia tutu is more affectionately known as the ballerina sponge because its microskeleton resembles a ballerina's skirt.

Sim-Smith said only one had been found fossilised in deposits from Oamaru, but there were similar living species throughout the country and in Antartica.

"Members of this group are often colourful, ranging from green to turquoise blue, purple or brown, and some even contain molecules with anticancer and antimicrobial properties," Sim-Smith said.

Other species named in this year's list include the satan's mud dragon, Japanese retweet mite, and fluffy sponge crab.

The initial shortlist was chosen by a committee of volunteers with diverse interests and the final decision was done by public vote.

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