Sponges lack organs and tissue, and all the cells exhibit considerable independence. The sponge is made up of two single-cell-deep layers and an intermediate mesohyl (mobile cells plus extracellular matrix). The outer (sac) layer consists of flattened polygonal cells called pinacocytes. The middle (mesohyl) layer consists of gelatinous protein/carbohydrate material, a range of mobile cells, and a skeleton of calcareous or siliceous spicules, or of elastic proteinaceous fibers called spongin fibers. The inner layer consists of flagelled cells called collar cells, or choanocytes.

The body is permeated by numerous pores called ostia that open into inhalant canals that lead to the feeding chambers, which are made up of choanocytes; here also are large openings, termed oscules, fed by exhalant canals, that carry the water current from the choanocyte chambers to the exterior. The concerted whipping action of the choanocyte flagella creates a current of water from ostia through the sponge body oscules. The choanocytes filter plankton and small bits of organic detritus from the water and, like the pinacocytes, absorb oxygen. Food is digested in ameboid archaeocytes that pick up food vacuoles from the choanocytes, which ingest the mainly particulate food. Waste products are carried out through the osculum.

Different types of amoebocyte spongiocytes and sclerocytes are responsible for secreting the skeletal material. Achaeocytes give rise to egg cells and sperm derive from choanocytes. The body of most sponges is irregular in form, although an almost radial symmetry is displayed by some. Three types of sponge structure are recognized: the asconoid, the most primitive, is regular, tube-shaped, and radially symmetrical; the syconoid is a more irregular structure that displays some degree of folding of the body wall while still maintaining a basic radial symmetry; the leuconoid is highly irregular, displays the greatest degree of folding of the body wall, and has lost radial symmetry. In the leuconoid sponges choanocytes line the pockets formed by the convoluted body wall.

Sponges are limited in size by the rate at which water can flow in and out of the spongocoel, bringing in food-bearing water and oxygen and removing waste products. Because the asconoid type has the smallest surface area, sponges of this structure are among the smallest in the phylum; leuconoid sponges, with a large amount of surface area, represent some of the largest members of the phylum.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Zoology: Invertebrates

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