Saturday, 28 June 2014

Two new species of Theonellid Sponge from the Great Barrier Reef.

Theonellid Sponges are predominantly deepwater Sponges found across the globe, with a rigid skeleton made up of interlocking silica spicules. They are noted for the production of an array of unusual chemicals, the majority of which are thought to be produced by symbiotic bacteria living within the Sponges. Many of these chemicals have anti-fungal properties.

In a paper published in the journal Zootaxa on 11 June 2014, Kathryn Hall and Merrick Ekins of  Marine Environments at the Natural Environments Program at the Queensland Museum and John Hooper of Marine Environments at the Natural Environments Program at the Queensland Museum and the Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery at Griffith University, describe two new species of Theonellid Sponge from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Both new species have been placed in the genus Theonella, which are a morphologically conservative (tend to all be the same shape) and usually bright yellow-orange in colour, though some species are blue, and which are predominantly Indo-Pacific in distribution.

The first new species is named Theonella deliqua, meaning ‘lacking’ or ‘wanting’ in reference to the species’ lack of desmas (explain). This is a bright orange Sponge with a smooth surface, incorporating portions of green Algae cream Snail shells and other material into its body. It forms thin sheets (roughly 50 μm thick) over the shells of the Snail Tenagodus, with smaller shells and fragments of shell of the same species incorporated into its body-mass. Snails interior to the sponge are all deceased, but living Snails appeared to be being incorporated at the edge of the Sponge-mass. The species was found living on the seafloor on the inner Barrier Reef south of Wreck Island at depths of between 40 and 45 m.

Portion of Theonella deliqua fixed in alcohol. Scale bar is 2 cm. Hall et al. (2014).

Theonella deliqua, Micrographs (SEM). (A) Overview of sponge, showing empty shells of a species of Tenagodus; scale bar is 1 mm. (B) Detail of snail shell, showing slit, which is definitive for species of Tenagodus; scale bar is 1 mm. (C) Detail of snail shell, showing Theonella deliqua forming thin encrusting sheets over the shell; scale bar is 1 mm. (D) Detail of region lying between aggregated snail shells; note the accumulation of debris and foreign spicules, including broken calthrops; scale bar is 100 μm. Hall et al. (2014).

The second new species is named Theonella maricae, after Mary Kay Harper of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Utah in honour of her work on the chemistry of Theonellid Sponges. The species forms thin sheets (about 50 μm thick) over a variety of substrates, and incorporates a range of material into its body, including Gastropod shells, Diatoms, broken Coral debris, algal material and quartz sand. The species was found on the inner Barrier Reef sea floor southeast of Guthrie Shoal.

Portion of Theonella maricae fixed in alcohol. Scale bar is 2 cm. Hall et al. (2014).

Detail view of Theonella maricae, showing thin sheets over debris, including filamentous algae, gastropod shells and other carbonates; scale bar is 500 μm. Hall et al. (2014).

See also…


Unlike most Sponges (Porifera), which feed by filter feeding water pumped through their bodies, Carnivorous Sponges (Cladorhizidae) feed by capturing Crustaceans and other small animals on hooked spicules on filaments, then digesting them externally.  The group are predominantly found in deep water, where carnivory...




Sponges (Porifera) are considered to be the most primitive form of animals. They lack differentiated cells, and can reform if disassociated by (for example) shoving them through a sieve. On the other hand they cannot be considered colonies of single-celled organisms, as they have definite structures, bodies with more-or-less set shapes consisting of networks of pores and channels through which water is pumped; the...




Sponges (Porifera) are considered to be the most primitive form of animals. They lack differentiated cells, and can reform if disassociated by (for example) shoving them through a sieve. On the other hand they cannot be considered colonies of single-celled organisms, as they have definite structures, bodies with...



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