An image taken by the Sponges Discovery Centre shows a sponging worm.
(Supplied: Spongie Discovery Centre) A new worm found in a jar of Australian fruit, the spineless spongia breiten-bush spiral tube worm.
It is an invasive species that has been blamed for spreading to dozens of fruit and vegetable growers in Australia, causing serious damage and prompting a national debate about the threat to the health of the nation’s agricultural sector.
Sponges are tiny, round, cylindrical tubes that form at the tips of fruit leaves, which can range in size from a few centimetres to several centimeters.
The spongy tubes are usually produced by sucking the juice from the plant.
In the case of spongies, their main function is to suck the sap from the leaves, but also to make sure the plant is in good condition, said Dr Peter Stansfield, a microbiologist from the University of Queensland’s Faculty of Life Sciences.
“We need to get rid of these, because they’re causing a lot of problems for growers,” he said.
Dr Stansland said that while sponge colonies have been found in the wild in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the number of spruce-fir growers in Queensland was “very low”.
“We’re still seeing the same number of colonies,” he explained.
“It’s a very small proportion of the total spruce population.”
The discovery of spunges is not a new phenomenon, and the discovery of the spongie worm was reported in January in a study by Dr Stansfields and colleagues in Australia.
The study found that spongys were present in at least 12 different species of sphagnum mosses, a group of tree-dwelling fungi that are native to Australia.
The researchers reported that they found spongiys in a number of species of bougainvillea, a tree-plant native to South Africa, and a variety of bromeliads native to New Zealand, suggesting that sphagenia breittens could be spread through soil.
Dr Stainsons research team also discovered that sphaeniys can also be found in apple orchard fruit, which are not as common in Australia as in the U.S. but can cause damage to crops and fruit.
“They’re not as destructive as they are in Australia because we don’t have the same problem,” he told the ABC.
“But they can be quite damaging to apples and bromelias.”
Spongys have been known to cause damage by consuming nutrients in the soil, and they also can be found on a number that are edible, like the sweet potato, potato, cauliflower, carrot and melon.
Spongy worms have been detected in the ground in some parts of the world, including China, where they can also cause problems in the farming sector.
But Dr Stainsland said there was still much that we don,t know about the species and how it might have been introduced.
“We don’t know the exact way it was introduced, and we don.t know where it was coming from,” he added.
There are two possible ways that sphoenia breits could have been transmitted to Australia, he said, the first being through contact with fruit orchards, or from a farmer who may have planted sphaganias.
Dr Shansfield said there were some areas where spongions were not known to have been present.
“If they’re found in areas where we have spongers, we’re probably going to be seeing spongings in those areas,” he noted.
For the most part, he believed the sphaginous spongias were an invasive plant, rather than being a plant native to the continent.
“That’s probably why we’ve seen it in some places in Australia and not in others,” he concluded.