Sponges are animals of the phylum Porifera (meaning “pore bearer”; pronounced /pɒˈrɪfərə/). Their bodies consist of jelly-like mesohyl sandwiched between two thin layers of cells. While all animals have non specialized cells that can transform into specialized cells, sponges are unique in having some specialized cells that can transform into other types, often migrating between the main cell layers and the mesohyl in the process. Sponges do not have nervous, digestive or circulatory systems. Instead, most rely on maintaining a constant water flow through their bodies to obtain food and oxygen and to remove wastes, and the shapes of their bodies are adapted to maximize the efficiency of the water flow. All are sessile aquatic animals and, although there are freshwater species, the great majority are marine (salt water) species, ranging from tidal zones to depths exceeding 8,800 metres (5.5 mi).

Common NameScientific NameRangeDescription
Azure Vase SpongeCallyspongia plicifera Azure Vase Sponge Babylon, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)Azure Vase Spongeon Chinese Wall, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer) Occasional in South Florida and Bahamas; common to occasional in the Caribbean. Vase-shaped or tubaeform with the outer surface characteristically provided with an elaborate system of meandering grooves and/or rounded pits. Terminal vent somewhat constricted, with a transparent, thin collar. Vases mostly solitary, but occasionally there are small side-tubes. Inner walls smooth, somewhat ridged lengthwise, with scattered oscules, 1-5 mm in diameter. Longitudinal fibrofascicles stand out clearly on the inner wall and collar (C. plicifera-young sponge). Vases up to 27 cm in height, 13.5 cm in diameter; vents up to 6.5 cm in diameter. Pits and grooves 0.5-1 cm in depth, 0.5-1.5 cm in diameter. Very spongy in consistency.  Pink to purple and fluoresces light blue.
Black Ball SpongeIrcinia strobilinaBlack ball sponge, Little Tunnels, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)Black Ball Sponge, Ircinia strobilina, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer) From Florida to the Guyana shelf.Blackish gray on the upper surface, yellow gray near the base.Ball- or cake-shaped, up to 20 cm high and 23 cm in diameter. Large specimens may show a shallow depression at their upper side, but many specimens are rounded or laterally expanded masses. Coarsely conulose; conules 2-15 mm high and 5-15 mm apart. One or more slight depressions with clusters of oscules; oscules 4-10 mm in diameter (I. strobulia-close up). Consistency tough.
Brown Bowl SpongeCribrochalina infundibulum also know as Cribrochalina vasculumBowl Sponge, Cribrochalina infundibulum also know as Cribrochalina vasculum, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer) Caribbean Sea Brown or reddish bowls, though the bowls are commonly incomplete and may just be one or more lobes, or ‘torn’ in appearance, becoming tangled masses.Texture is slightly elastic to stiff. Inside the bowls concentric ridges are usually clear.
Branching Tube SpongeCallyspongia vaginalisare

Branching Tube Sponge, Aiolochroia crassa, Leslie's Curl, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)

 Abundant Caribbean; common Bahamas and occasional South Florida.Chiefly massive, frequently lobate to rarely ramose. Ramose outcrops up to 15 cm long, lobes up to 6 cm high. Total size up to 17 cm in diameter in massive specimens. Surface irregularly conulose, with large smooth areas showing fields of pores (A. crassa-close up). Interconnecting ridges between the conules may enclose polygonal depressions. Conules acute or low and blunt, 2-4 mm high, 2-7 mm apart, but quite irregularly distributed. Oscules 2-4 mm in diameter, on lobal outcrops (A. crassa-oscula). Typically, at various places large thick fibers stick out beyond the dermis. The consistency is rubbery, cheese-like and somewhat compressible.Normally yellow with blue or green spots, but total bluish specimens can be found.
Brown Encrusting Octopus  SpongeEctyoplasia feroxBrown Encrusting Octopus Sponge, Ectyoplasia ferox, No Name Wall, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer) Occasional Florida Keys; common in the Bahamas and Caribbean. The color is externally a rich brownish orange; internally yellow-orange.
The sponge grows in two habits:
(a) Thickly incrusting, with oscules on top of hemispherical or low conical projections; up to 5 cm thick, with a spread of 30 cm or more (E. ferox habitus).
(b) Massive, erect, often compressed, thickly flabellate, with oscules on lateral, horizontally projecting elevations, and on terminal erect chimneys, which are like turrets, connected by sharply edged crests. The erect chimneys may take over almost completely, clustering, coalescent, up to 10 cm long, gradually tapering, surpassing the connecting ridges.
The oscules in both types are 2-7 mm wide, provided with a recessed, plane, contractile diaphragm. The surface has a felt-like texture; the consistency is spongy, compressible, resilient and easily torn.
Brown Tube Sponge Agelas tubulata

Brown Tube Sponge, Agelas Lacunosa,  Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)

 

 Western Central Atlantic: Caribbean and FloridaThis forms clusters of tubes. The openings of the tubes are fairly broad and the end of the tubes are well rounded. Sometimes tubes may be fused to nearly half way up their lengths. Tube apertures may have a thin rim of a different color.  The outer surface is very smooth.  Color is always brownish.
Tube SpongeAgelas conifera BBrown Tube Sponge, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)Western Central Atlantic: Caribbean wide , USA, Belize and BahamasThese colonies appear identical to Agelas conifera, and have a similar growth form, whereby chains of tubes may form antler-like growths. However, there are two main differences.Firstly, their colour is more pale being cream to reddish brown in colour.Secondly, their outer surface is pitted with small but deep depressions, most of which are inhabited (possibly etched by) by a zoanthid.The two forms are likely to be the same species although they are clearly distinguishable.
Elephant Ear Sponge Agelas clathrodesElephant Ear Sponge, Agelas clathrodes, Orange Canyon Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)Common to occasional Florida, Bahamas and Caribbean. The species is massive, compressed, rising from a narrow base. Larger specimens are broadly flabellate, occasionally with several coalescent fronds. The plane of the fronds is usually contorted. The margin is rounded, lobate or intended. The width is 4 by 6 cm to 20 by 35 cm; the thickness is 1.5 to 5 cm. The surface is covered to a variable degree by a fleshy skin (A. clathrodes-close-up); rough to the touch. The consistency is firmly spongy and resilient.
Green Barrel Sponge Verongula giganteaGreen Vase Sponge Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer) Western Central Atlantic: Caribbean.Large barrels, but often very elongated or oval. The walls are thin relative to the size of the sponge, unlike the other giant barrels Xestospongia muta, and Geodia neptuni.Yellow to green in color.The outer surface has a distinctive patterning of a raised net or lattice, especially clear in younger specimens. There are no jagged projections on the surface or lip as there are in the similarly sized Xestospongia.
Green Tube  SpongeAplysina lacunosa

 

Bahamas, Jamaica and Caribbean.Ridges dark green to yellowish-green, valleys and pits yellow-green to yellow. Interior walls have yellow excurrent pores.Single or clustered, thick-walled tapering tubes of up to 35 cm high, 10 cm in diameter, with an apical vent of up to 3.5 cm with an iris type diaphragm (A. lacunosa-close up). The tubes are tapering more strongly towards the base than Aplysina archeri ; often the base is barely 1 cm in diameter. Tube walls deeply intended by irregular meandering grooves or disc-shaped depressions of up to 10 mm deep and wide (A. lacunosa-pitted). Consistency tough and hardly compressible; although there seem to be a hard and a soft form.
Pink Vase SpongeNiphates digitalisPink Vase Sponge, Niphates digitalis, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer) Western Central Atlantic: USA and Belize A tube sponge, commonly mauve or purple, sometimes blue, sometimes translucent.Grows in either in vase-, tube- or cup-shape, broadening upward from the base up to 50 cm in height. Fan-shape rare; may be globular or tubular in small specimens. Surface smooth or with conules or soft spines up to 6 mm in height ; coarsely porous. Color varies from pale purplish pink to light bluish to grayish green or gray. Compressible. Small round oscules present inside the vase or cup. A fringe of soft spines usually connected by a transparent membrane is present at the apical opening.
It usually has a very ‘serrated’ lip, with a membrane-like structure surrounding the aperture. The lip is thin.Very often it has a covering of zooanthids or brittle-stars. When it does not, its surface is seen to have a covering of small conical projections.Gammill (1997) notes three other species: N. erecta which is described as more rope-like, N. amorpha which is encrusting with conical pores, and N. ramosawhich is tall and thin, or rope-like.
Row Pore Rope SpongeAplysina cauliformisRow Pore Rope Sponge, Aplysina cauliformis, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer) This sponge is fairly common throughout the Caribbean, and may also be seen in the Bahamas.  It usually inhabits deep reef slopes and walls, at depths below 12 meters (40 ft) .The Row Pore Rope Sponge (Aplysina cauliformis) is a Caribbean species.  Its common name describes it well.  It grows ropy-looking branches, and its excurrent openings (‘pores’) are arranged in long rows along the lengths of the branches.  The ropy branches can grow quite long — to a maximum of 180 to 240 cm (about six to eight feet ).  The longest branch of the one in the photo above was about 150 cm long (about five feet).  This sponge comes in several pretty colors: purple, lavender, and red.
Yellow Tube SpongeAplysina fistularis

Yellow Tube Sponge, Aplysina fistularia, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)

Yellow Tube Sponge, Aplysina fistularia, Grand Cayman (Steven Smeltzer)

Abundant in the Caribbean, from Florida to Venezuela.Yellow tube sponges get their name from their hollow, chimney-like body form. They pump huge quantities of water through their bodies, filtering out the tiny particles on which they feed.  Large yellow or golden tubes, each tube rarely more than 30 cm in clear water, reaching 50 cm tall in turbid reefs, in clumps of up to 20 columns.They arise from a common base. While they may be fused for their first 10-20 cm, they do not branch.Their apertures are wide, and walls are relatively thin. The outer surface has pronounced ridges.This species may show some irregular projections and tendrils branching off from the tubes, but nowhere near as much as A. insularis, and it does not develop the tendency of the latter to develop ‘ropes’.

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