• Austin Pugh

Meet the Critters: The Cloud Sponge

Updated: Feb 17


Drawing of a group of glass sponges of various species
Image from Wikimedia Commons

OA Impact: Cloud sponges are negatively impacted by ocean acidification, showing reduced pumping strength/capacity. This reduced pumping strength will negatively impact the way that the sponge feeds.


Diet: Suspension Feeder (Planktonic/floating debris)


Habitat: Subtidal seafloor from 10-1600m in depth.


Predators: Wrinkled Sea Star


Geographic Distribution: This sponge is found in the northern Pacific Ocean. In Canada it lives along the fjords of the coastline of British Columbia and on the Canadian Pacific continental shelf where it creates sponge reefs. It's range continues along the west coast of North America up to Alaska and down to Mexico. It also inhabits the western Pacific Ocean and can be found on the coasts of Japan, Siberia, and the Aleutian Islands.

See the cloud sponge's approximate North American distribution here: https://www.oceanacidification.ca/map-of-canadas-oa-resources!

Scientific Drawing of sponge spicules and full sponge
Sponge Spicules (top) Image from Wikimedia Commons

Critter Fun Facts:


Despite how they look all sponges are animals, not plants! They feed by actively pumping water through their bodies using cells with whip-like tails. They filter chunks of organic matter out of the water that they feed on. Sponges are capable of larger movement with some species recorded as "sneezing" (moving suddenly and expelling water from their body) to clear themselves of sediment and dirt.

The cloud sponge is part of a group of sponges called "glass sponges". This group gets their name from their "glass" skeletons, which are made silica. These spikes of silica are called spicules (an example of these are in the scientific drawing above) and give the glass sponges their structure. These spicules make glass sponges more fragile and brittle than their other sponge cousins that lack these features. The fragility of glass sponges make them more vulnerable to destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling.

The hardness of the spicules have allowed scientists to know about the existence of glass sponges for years before any living animal was discovered. The spicules fossilize better than the soft bodies of other sponges. This paired with the sponge reefs that they used to form in the Paleozoic era, resulted in their fossils being found before any living sponge was (scientists thought they went extinct 40 million years ago before living animals were discovered in the late 19th century)!


Linnaean Classification:


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Porifera

Class: Hexactinellida

Subclass: Hexasterophora

Order: Sceptrulophora

Family: Aphrocallistidae

Genus: Aphrocallistes

Species: vastus


Common Names: Cloud Sponge


Cloud sponges growing on the dark seafloor
Image From: Wikimedia commons, Author: dphershman


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