What are Poriferans?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

"Poriferans" is the scientific term for sponges, members of the animal phylum Porifera, which means "pore-bearer" in Greek. Sponges are the simplest animals known. Unlike all other animal phyla, which have two or three-layered body plans (diploblastic or triploblastic), sponges have only a single body layer (monoblastic), and no true tissues. They have no appendages and no ability to make any movements, lacking muscle tissues. Sponges are exclusively aquatic.

Poriferans get their nutrition by staying in one place, pumping water through themselves, and filtering it for small organisms and bits of food that they digest. Sponges are protected from predators by their low nutrition content as well as irritating spines distributed throughout their bodies, called spicules, which also double as a "skeleton." Over 5,000 species are recognized by science, and new species are discovered regularly. This is partially because the range of sponges is so wide: they are found at every depth, from right up against the shore to down in six-mile deep ocean trenches. The sponge's simple body structure lends itself to survival in ocean pressures equal to dozens of atmospheres.

For a very long time, it was thought that sponges were evolutionarily the simplest organisms, and the first animal phylum to exist. However, a landmark phylogenetics study in 2008 determined that sponges may be secondarily simplified (having evolved from more complex ancestors, probably with true tissues) rather than truly basal. In any case, it is agreed that the modern form of poriferans is the simplest of all animal phyla.

Although poriferans lack true tissues, they do have cell differentiation, and display at least eight types of cells, including choanocytes ("collar cells" with flagella that beat to pump water through the sponge), porocytes (tubular cells which make up the pores through which water is pumped), pinacocytes (which form the outer layer of cells), myocytes (muscle cells which open and close the porocytes), archaeocytes (which can differentiate into other cells), sclerocytes (which secrete defensive spicules), spongocytes (which secrete the structural protein spongin), and collenocytes (which secrete other collagens).

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime InfoBloom contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime InfoBloom contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

Lostnfound

@Grivusangel -- That teacher must have been an aquarium zen master to keep a saltwater tank going in a classroom. I've never had one, but I know people who have, and it's not easy under the best of circumstances.

Anyway, I have a friend who loves sponges and coral and keeps a saltwater tank for those two species. She also has fish in the aquarium, but that's mostly because they support the sponges and coral. She said some sponges are "aggressive" toward coral, which really surprised me since I wondered how something that sits on the bottom and doesn't move could be aggressive in any way. Kind of blew my box, let me tell you!

Grivusangel

I always thought sponges were interesting creatures. My middle school science teacher had a saltwater aquarium in her classroom and had a couple of sponges in there. She said they were live, and I suppose they were. I don't know exactly what they ate, but I guess it was fish food the fish didn't eat, or something similar.

She had the sponges in the tank and had some kind of pump that kept the water moving around them.

I always wondered how she kept a healthy saltwater aquarium in a classroom, but she managed. I know we always loved watching the fish in the tank.

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