Common Name: Cloud Sponges
Scientific Name: Aphrocallistes vastus
Species: A. vastus
Aphrocallistes vastus, cloud sponges, are deep-water animals that form large billowing growths up to ten feet in diameter and almost seven feet high. There are about 5000 sponge species known across the world. Sponges are found mostly in marine water, but around 150 species live in fresh water. They can also be found in inlets, on rock walls and ledges at depths of 100 feet and deeper. In the sponge cavities, you may find many other animals such as rock fishes and a variety of invertebrates. It provides a home for a number of small marine plants, which live around their pore systems.
Cloud sponges are found anywhere from Alaska to Mexico. Cloud sponges were present long before the time of dinosaurs. Very little is actually known about them because they are a deep dwelling organism. In the inlets of British Columbia cloud sponges can be found within depth limits of recreational divers. This allows them to be able to view and study the Cloud sponges, which they have found out has not changed much over hundreds of millions of years. They grow about 2 inches per year in nutrient rich waters. In poor nutrient water they grow much slower. Many cloud sponges today could be over 100 years old. Sponges filter sea water to eat, breath and to get rid of waste products. The organisms use silica to form glass-like spicules to form the support structure of the sponge.
The “mittens” or sometimes called, “elephant ears” of Cloud sponges tend to form in a vertical direction, which helps avoid sediment build up on the sponge. The sponges must keep themselves clean in order to keep the water moving to get nutrients. Their colors typically range from white to yellow. The sponges that are dark brown and covered with sediment are usually dead sponge skeletons.
The only known predator of Cloud sponges is the “Wrinkled Sea Star.” Many sponges have toxic substances, to scare away predators. Other marine animals take advantage of this characteristic of sponges by placing adult sponges on their bodies, where the sponges attach and grow. The chemicals also probably play a role in competition among sponges and other organisms, as they are released by sponges to insure themselves space in the marine ecosystem. Some of these chemicals have been found to be used in medicine for humans to help with respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and antibiotic activities.
To eat, the sponges trap plankton using the cilia surrounding their cells. Sponges have water canal systems running throughout the body, with smaller inhalant (ostia) and larger exhalant pores (oscules). Two interesting facts that I learned about sponges is that they are able to pump up to 10 times their body volume each hour, making them the greatest vacuum cleaners of the sea. The other fact is that 90% of their dry weight is made glass or silica. I wish I knew how to scuba dive, because then I could go check out these creatures myself.
Author: McCall R.
Photo Credit: Brusca, R. C., and G. J. Brusca. Invertebrates. 1990. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA. Leys, S. P. & Lauzon, N. R. J. (1998): Hexactinellid sponge ecology: growth rates and seasonality in deep water sponges. - Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 230: 111-129, 8 figs., Amsterdam.