Spectacular Sponges

What “sneezes” even though it doesn’t have a nose, comes in many shapes and sizes, and is probably the most ancient animal on Earth?

Drum roll: the sponge!

Scientists recently discovered that sponges “sneeze” to eject irritants from their body cavities. It takes a sponge about a half hour to sneeze. Ah-ah-ah choo……….


I became smitten with sponges when I wrote about them for Extreme Survivors: Animals That Time Forgot. The more research I did, the more these mysterious animals fascinated me.

You might think sponges sit around doing nothing, but they’re busy 24/7, pumping water through their bodies to strain out plankton and bacteria for food. Check out this cool video of sponges in action.

With more than 9,000 species discovered so far, sponges vary wildly in color and form, from tiny breadcrumb sponges to towering tube sponges, barrel sponges, and delicate harp sponges, (which, btw are carnivorous)!

The largest sponge in the world (so far) was found by a NOAA expedition in deep water off the coast of Hawaii in 2015. It’s the size of a minivan and may be thousands of years old! Here’s a photo:

Sponges are thought to have appeared on Earth around 600 million years ago. How have they survived all these years when they can’t run from danger? They have at least two survival secrets.

Sponges churn out more than 8,000 chemicals to protect themselves against predators and disease. Scientists are studying sponge chemicals and recently found a small, green, golf-ball-sized sponge off the coast of Alaska that produces a chemical that kills cancer cells.

The sea sponges we use in the bath are the spongin “skeletons” of soft sponges. Many species of sponges, however, also have skeletons made up of sharp, spiky structures called spicules. These microscopic structures help protect sponges against predators.

Here are scanning electron micrographs (SEMS) of a few different sponge spicules. These intricate structures can be used to identify sponge species. Aren’t they beautiful?

Scientists have discovered about 9,000 species of sponges, which are members of the Porifera (pore-bearing) family. To find out the amazing thing sponges can do that no other animal can, check out Extreme Survivors!

top sponge photo by icelight on flickr

giant sponge photo by NOAA

sponge spicule SEMS by sponge spicule SEMS by By Rob W. M. Van Soest, Nicole Boury-Esnault, Jean Vacelet, Martin Dohrmann, Dirk Erpenbeck, Nicole J. De Voogd, Nadiezhda Santodomingo, Bart Vanhoorne, Michelle Kelly, John N. A. Hooper – Van Soest RWM, Boury-Esnault N, Vacelet J, Dohrmann M, Erpenbeck D, et al. (2012) Global Diversity of Sponges (Porifera). PLoS ONE 7(4): e35105. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035105, CC BY 2.5

Posted in Blog, Extreme Survivors, sea sponge.