Nope you do not have to replace the sponge. Air filters differ a lot from different suppliers. The sponge is just added protection that is not required to run your wrangler safely.
Any baby fish can get sucked into a filter and killed quite easily. While your tetras are very small, it's best to use a sponge filter. This is basically a piece of fine aquarium sponge that is attached to an air pump and the rising air bubbles draw water through the sponge. It will not hurt your fry, you may even see them 'grazing' on tiny bits of food that get stuck to the sponge. The drawback of sponge filters is that they are not particularly powerful, and will not cope with a heavy bioload - don't overstock a tank that's running on a sponge filter. When your fry get a bit bigger, switch them over to whatever kind of filtration you normally use, but cover the inlet with some pantyhose. This is a cheap and easy way to stop fry being sucked into a filter.
Typically, sponges feed on bacteria which they filter out of the water. They have special cells with whip-like flagella. The beating of the flagella creates a current of water into the sponge, carrying bacteria, which they filter out. A sponge can pass up to 20 000 times its own volume in water through its body in 24 hours. See link below for more information. ther usually filter feed
If the air filter is the sponge-type, it can be washed with soap and warm water, then rinsed. Wring as much water out of it as you can and then let it dry completely. After it dries, soak a little oil on it before re-installing it. If it's a paper filter, you can tap the filter against something to shake out the loose dust/dirt. If you can't "see daylight" showing through the filter after cleaning, replace the filter.
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