AskDefine | Define sponge

Dictionary Definition



1 a porous mass of interlacing fibers the forms the internal skeleton of various marine animals and usable to absorb water or any porous rubber or cellulose product similarly used
2 someone able to acquire new knowledge and skills rapidly and easily; "she soaks up foreign languages like a sponge" [syn: quick study]
3 a follower who hangs around a host (without benefit to the host) in hope of gain or advantage [syn: leech, parasite, sponger]
4 primitive multicellular marine animal whose porous body is supported by a fibrous skeletal framework; usually occurs in sessile colonies [syn: poriferan, parazoan]


1 wipe with a sponge, so as to clean or moisten
2 ask for and get free; be a parasite [syn: mooch, bum, cadge, grub]
3 erase with a sponge; as of words on a blackboard
4 soak up with a sponge
5 gather sponges, in the ocean

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Any of various marine invertebrates, mostly of the phylum Porifera, that have a porous skeleton often of silica
  2. A piece of porous material used for washing (originally made from the invertebrates, now often made of plastic)
  3. A porous material such as sponges consist of
  4. A heavy drinker
  5. countable uncountable A light cake
  6. A type of steamed pudding
  7. A person who takes advantage of the generosity of others (abstractly imagined to absorb or soak up the money or efforts of others like a sponge)

See also


marine invertebrate with a porous skeleton
piece of porous material used for washing
  • Czech: houba
  • Finnish: pesusieni
  • French: éponge
  • German: Schwamm
  • Icelandic: svampur
  • Italian: spugna
  • Japanese: スポンジ (suponji)
  • Romanian: burete
  • Serbian: sunđer


  1. To take advantage of the kindness of others.
    He has been sponging off his friends for a month now.
  2. To clean, soak up, or dab with a sponge.



to take advantage of others
  • Finnish: siipeillä
  • German: schnorren
  • Spanish: cafichear, gorronear

Extensive Definition

'' The sponges or poriferans (from Latin porus "pore" and ferre "to bear") are animals of the phylum Porifera (). Porifera translates to "Pore-bearer". They are primitive, sessile, mostly marine, water dwelling filter feeders that pump water through their bodies to filter out particles of food matter. Sponges represent the simplest of animals. With no true tissues (parazoa), they lack muscles, nerves, and internal organs. Their similarity to colonial choanoflagellates shows the probable evolutionary jump from unicellular to multicellular organisms. However, recent genomic studies suggest they are not the most ancient lineage of animals, but may instead be secondarily simplified.
There are over 5,000 modern species of sponges known, and they can be found attached to surfaces anywhere from the intertidal zone to as deep as 8,500 m (29,000 feet) or further. Though the fossil record of sponges dates back to the Neoproterozoic Era, new species are still commonly discovered.

Anatomy and morphology

Sponges have several cell types: Sponges have three body types: asconoid, syconoid, and leuconoid.
Asconoid sponges are tubular with a central shaft called the spongocoel. The beating of flagella forces water into the spongocoel through pores in the body wall. Choanocytes line the spongocoel and filter nutrients out of the water.
Syconoid sponges are similar to asconoids. They have a tubular body with a single osculum, but the body wall is thicker and more complex than that of asconoids and contains choanocyte-lined radial canals that empty into the spongocoel. Water enters through a large number of dermal ostia into incurrent canals and then filters through tiny openings called prosopyles into the radial canals. Their food is ingested by the choanocytes. Syconoids do not usually form highly branched colonies as asconoids do. During their development, syconoid sponges pass through an asconoid stage.
Leuconoid sponges lack a sperm and instead have flagellated chambers, containing choanocytes, which are led to and out of via canals.
It should be noted that these 3 body grades are useful only in describing morphology, and not in classifying sponge species, althought the asconoid and syconoid construction is present in Calcarea only.


Sponges have no true circulatory system; instead, they create a water current which is used for circulation. Dissolved gases are brought to cells and enter the cells via simple diffusion. Metabolic wastes are also transferred to the water through diffusion. Sponges pump remarkable amounts of water. Leuconia, for example, is a small leuconoid sponge about 10 cm tall and 1 cm in diameter. It is estimated that water enters through more than 80,000 incurrent canals at a speed of 6cm per minute. However, because Leuconia has more than 2 million flagellated chambers whose combined diameter is much greater than that of the canals, water flow through chambers slows to 3.6cm per hour. Such a flow rate allows easy food capture by the collar cells. All water is expelled through a single osculum at a velocity of about 8.5 cm/second: a jet force capable of carrying waste products some distance away from the sponge.
Sponges of the family Cladorhizidae (order Poecilosclerida, class Demospongiae) are species usually found in deep water, but also in littoral caves in the Mediterranean (Asbestopluma hypogea), that have become carnivorous, using a strategy that has much in common with what is found in carnivorous plants such as sundew. When small crustaceans comes in contact with their surface, they get captured by a sticky substance, or in the case of the Mediterranean species by spicules modified into raised hook-shaped spines, and then digested by migrating cells which soon covers the prey. This lifestyle has caused the loss of their aquiferous system and the choanocytes, resulting in forms like the ping-pong tree sponge (Chondrocladia lampadiglobus), who don't look like typical sponges.


Sponges are traditionally divided into classes based on the type of spicules in their skeleton. The three classes of sponges are bony (Calcarea), glass (Hexactenellida), and spongin (Demospongiae). Some taxonomists have suggested a fourth class, Sclerospongiae, of coralline sponges, but the modern consensus is that coralline sponges have arisen several times and are not closely related. In addition to these four, a fifth, extinct class has been proposed: Archaeocyatha. While these ancient animals have been phylogenetically vague for years, the current general consensus is that they were a type of sponge. Although 90% of modern sponges are demosponges, fossilized remains of this type are less common than those of other types because their skeletons are composed of relatively soft spongin that does not fossilize well.
Sponge taxonomy is an area of active research, with molecular studies improving our understanding of their relationship with other animals.

Basal lineage?

Sponges are among the simplest animals. They lack gastrulated embryos, extracellular digestive cavities, nerves, muscles, tissues, and obvious sensory structures, features possessed by all other animals. In addition, sponge choanocytes (feeding cells) appear to be a homologous to choanoflagellates, a group of unicellular and colonial protists that are believed to be the immediate precursors of animals. The traditional conclusion is that sponges are the basal lineage of the animals, and that features such as tissues developed after sponges and other animals diverged. Sponges were first assigned their own subkingdom, the Parazoa, but more recent molecular studies suggested that the sponges were paraphyletic to other animals, with the eumetazoa as a sister group to the most derived:
Either way, sponges have long been considered useful models of the earliest multicellular ancestors of animals.

...or secondarily simplified?

However, a phylogenomic study in 2008 of 150 genes in 21 genera suggests that the ctenophora are the most basal lineage of the 21 taxa sampled, and that sponges—or at least those lines of sponges investigated so far—are not primitive, but secondarily simplified, having lost tissues and other eumetazoan characteristics from their common ancestor.

Geological history

The fossil record of sponges is not abundant. Some fossil sponges have worldwide distribution, while others are restricted to certain areas. Sponge fossils such as Hydnoceras and Prismodictya are found in the Devonian rocks of New York state. In Europe the Jurassic limestone of the Swabian Alb are composed largely of sponge remains, some of which are well preserved. Many sponges are found in the Cretaceous Lower Greensand and Chalk Formations of England, and in rocks from the upper part of the Cretaceous period in France. A famous locality for fossil sponges is the Cretaceous Faringdon Sponge Gravels in Faringdon, Oxfordshire in England. An older sponge is the Cambrian Vauxia. Sponges have long been important agents of bioerosion in shells and carbonate rocks. Their borings extend back to the Ordovician in the fossil record.
Fossil sponges differ in size from 1 cm (0.4 inches) to more than 1 meter (3.3 feet). They vary greatly in shape, being commonly vase-shapes (such as Ventriculites), spherical (such as Porosphaera), saucer-shaped (such as Astraeospongia), pear-shaped (such as Siphonia), leaf-shaped (such as Elasmostoma), branching (such as Doryderma), irregular or encrusting.
Detailed identification of many fossil sponges relies on the study of thin sections.


Modern sponges are predominantly marine, with some 150 species adapted to freshwater environments. Their habitats range from the inter-tidal zone to depths of 6,000 metres (19,680 feet). Certain types of sponges are limited in the range of depths at which they are found. Sponges are worldwide in their distribution, and range from waters of the polar regions to the tropical regions. Sponges are most abundant in both numbers of individuals and species in warmer waters.
Adult sponges are largely sessile, and live in an attached position. However, it has been noted that certain sponges can move slowly by directing their water current in a certain direction with myocytes. The greatest numbers of sponges are usually to be found where a firm means of fastening is provided, such as on a rocky ocean bottom. Some kinds of sponges are able to attach themselves to soft sediment by means of a root-like base. Sponges also live in quiet clear waters, because if the sediment is agitated by wave action or by currents, it tends to block the pores of the animal, lessening its ability to feed and survive.
Recent evidence suggests that a new disease called Aplysina red band syndrome (ARBS) is threatening sponges in the Caribbean. Aplysina red band syndrome causes Aplysina to develop one or more rust-coloured leading edges to their structure, sometimes with a surrounding area of necrotic tissue so that the lesion causes a contiguous band around some or all of the sponge's branch.


Sponges can reproduce sexually or asexually.
Asexual reproduction is through internal and external budding. External budding occurs when the parent sponge grows a bud on the outside of its body. This will either break away or stay connected. Internal budding occurs when archaeocytes collect in the mesohyl and become surrounded by spongin. The internal bud is called a gemmule, and this is seen only in the freshwater sponge family, the Spongillidae. An asexually reproduced sponge has exactly the same genetic material as the parent.
In sexual reproduction, sperm are dispersed by water currents and enter neighboring sponges. All sponges of a particular species release their sperm at approximately the same time. Fertilization occurs internally, in the mesohyl. Fertilized oocytes develop within the mesohyl. Cleavage stages are highly varied within and between groups, sometimes even within a single species. Larval development usually involves an odd type of morphogenetic movement termed an inversion of layers. When this occurs in some species (for example, in Sycon coactum ), the larva flips into the choanocyte chamber, and then can emerge via the water canal system and out through the osculum.
Although sponges are hermaphroditic (both male and female), they are not self-fertile. Most sponges are sequential hermaphrodites, capable of producing eggs or sperm, but not both at the same time.


By dolphins

In 1997, use of sponges as a tool was described in Bottlenose Dolphins in Shark Bay. A dolphin will attach a marine sponge to its rostrum, which is presumably then used to protect it when searching for food in the sandy sea bottom. The behaviour, known as sponging, has only been observed in this bay, and is almost exclusively shown by females. This is the only known case of tool use in marine mammals outside of Sea Otters. An elaborate study in 2005 showed that mothers most likely teach the behaviour to their daughters.

By humans

Skeleton as absorbent

In common usage, the term sponge is applied to the skeleton of the animal, from which the tissue has been removed by maceration and washing, leaving just the spongin scaffolding. Calcareous and siliceous sponges are too harsh for similar use. Commercial sponges are derived from various species and come in many grades, from fine soft "lamb's wool" sponges to the coarse grades used for washing cars.
The manufacture of rubber-, plastic- and cellulose-based synthetic sponges has significantly reduced the commercial sponge fishing industry in recent years.
The luffa "sponge", also spelled loofah, commonly sold for use in the kitchen or the shower, is not derived from an animal sponge, but from the locules of a gourd (Cucurbitaceae).

Antibiotic compounds

Sponges have medicinal potential due to the presence of antimicrobial compounds in either the sponge itself or their microbial symbionts.



Further reading

  • Berguist, P. R. 1998. "The Porifera" (pp. 10-27), in D. T. Anderson (ed.) Invertebrate Zoology. (A brief treatment)
  • Berguist, P. R. 1978. Sponges Hutchinson, London.

See also

External links

sponge in Arabic: إسفنجيات
sponge in Bulgarian: Водни гъби
sponge in Catalan: Porífer
sponge in Czech: Houbovci
sponge in Welsh: Sbwng
sponge in Danish: Svampedyr
sponge in German: Schwämme
sponge in Estonian: Käsnad
sponge in Modern Greek (1453-): Σπόγγος
sponge in Spanish: Porifera
sponge in Esperanto: Spongulo
sponge in Basque: Belaki
sponge in Persian: اسفنج دریایی
sponge in French: Porifera
sponge in Galician: Porifera
sponge in Korean: 해면동물
sponge in Croatian: Spužve
sponge in Ido: Sponjo
sponge in Indonesian: Porifera
sponge in Icelandic: Svampdýr
sponge in Italian: Porifera
sponge in Hebrew: ספוגיים
sponge in Luxembourgish: Schwämm
sponge in Lithuanian: Pintys
sponge in Hungarian: Szivacsok
sponge in Macedonian: Сунѓери
sponge in Dutch: Sponsdieren
sponge in Japanese: 海綿
sponge in Norwegian: Svamper
sponge in Norwegian Nynorsk: Svampar
sponge in Occitan (post 1500): Porifera
sponge in Polish: Gąbki
sponge in Portuguese: Porifera
sponge in Quechua: Puqyala
sponge in Russian: Губки
sponge in Simple English: Sponge
sponge in Slovak: Hubky
sponge in Slovenian: Spužve
sponge in Serbian: Сунђери
sponge in Serbo-Croatian: Spužve
sponge in Finnish: Sienieläimet
sponge in Swedish: Svampdjur
sponge in Thai: ฟองน้ำ
sponge in Turkish: Süngerler
sponge in Ukrainian: Губки
sponge in Chinese: 多孔动物门

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Ace bandage, Band-Aid, Finnish bath, India rubber, Japanese bath, Loch Ness monster, Russian bath, Swedish bath, Turkish bath, ablution, absorb, absorbency, absorbent, absorption, adhesive tape, adsorb, adsorbent, adsorption, air, air-dry, alevin, anhydrate, application, asperge, assimilate, assimilation, bake, band, bandage, bandaging, baptize, barnacle, bath, bathe, batten on, beat, bedew, benthon, benthos, bespatter, besprinkle, bibber, binder, bloodsucker, blot, blot out, blot up, blotter, blotting, blotting paper, boozehound, boozer, bottle sucker, brace, brush, bubble, bum, burn, butter, cancel, cast, cataplasm, cetacean, chaff, chemisorb, chemisorption, chemosorb, chemosorption, chip, cleaning out, cobweb, colander, cold shower, compress, cork, cotton, court plaster, cravat, cribble, cribriformity, cribrosity, cross out, crush, cure, dabble, damp, dampen, dash, deadbeat, dehumidify, dehydrate, dele, delete, dental pulp, desiccate, dew, digest, digestion, dolphin, douche, douching, down, drain, dressing, drink, drink in, drink up, drunk, dry, dust, efface, elastic bandage, elbow bender, elution, elutriation, endosmosis, enema, engross, engrossment, epithem, eradicator, erase, eraser, ether, evaporate, exosmosis, expunge, expunger, exsiccate, fairy, fatten on, feather, feed on, filter in, fingerling, fire, fish, flue, fluff, flush, flush out, flushing, flushing out, foam, four-tailed bandage, freeload, freeloader, froth, fry, fuzz, game fish, gargle, gauze, ginhound, give, gossamer, grilse, guzzler, hanger-on, hip bath, holystone, honeycomb, hooch hound, hose, hose down, humect, humectate, humidify, hummum, imbibe, inebriate, infiltrate, infiltration, insolate, irrigate, irrigation, kiln, kipper, lather, lathering, launder, lavabo, lavage, lavation, lave, laving, leech, lint, live off of, lounge lizard, lush, lusher, man-eater, man-eating shark, marine animal, mash, minnow, minny, moisten, mop, mop up, mopping, mopping up, mote, mummify, mush, needle bath, nekton, net, obliterate, osmose, osmosis, paddle, panfish, paper pulp, parasite, parch, paste, percolate in, percolation, pith, plankton, plaster, plaster cast, pledget, plunge bath, porosity, porousness, porpoise, porridge, poultice, present, pudding, pulp, pulp lead, pulpwood, rag pulp, raze, riddle, rinse, rinse out, rinsing, ritually immerse, roller, roller bandage, rub, rub out, rubber, rubber bandage, rule out, rum hound, rummy, salmon, sauce, sauna, sauna bath, scorch, scour, scouring, scratch, scratch out, screen, scrub, scrub up, scrubbing, scrubbing up, sea monster, sea pig, sea serpent, sea snake, sear, seep in, seepage, shampoo, shark, shower, shower bath, shrivel, sieve, sievelikeness, sitz bath, sling, slobber, slop, slosh, sluice, sluice out, slurp up, smash, smell-feast, smoke, smolt, soak, soak in, soak up, soap, soaping, sorb, sorption, sot, souse, sparge, spatter, spiv, splash, splatter, splint, sponge bath, sponge on, sponge out, sponger, sponging, spray, sprinkle, spume, squash, stew, strainer, straw, strike out, stupe, sucker, sulfate pulp, sulfite pulp, sun, sun-dry, swab, swabbing, swash, sweat bath, swill up, swillbelly, swillbowl, swillpot, syringe, take in, take up, tampon, tape, tent, thistledown, tippler, toivel, torrefy, tourniquet, towel, triangular bandage, tropical fish, tub, wash, wash out, wash up, washing, washing up, washout, washup, water, weazen, wet, wet down, whale, whirlpool bath, white lead, wino, wipe, wipe out, wiping up, wither, wizen, wood pulp
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