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(Bowerbank, 1874)

Species Overview

Tethyspira spinosa (Bowerbank, 1874) is a whitish massive sponge with an orangy sheen and a conulose, slippery surface. Consistency is firm but compressible. It is a rare southern species reported from various localities along the south west coasts of the British Isles and the west coast of France.

Taxonomic Description

Colour: Greyish-white, through orangeish, to almost rose-red. The colour can vary within a single specimen, because of the variable combination of translucent whitish ectosome and light brown choanosome.
Shape, size, surface and consistency: Low cushion with tall sides and rugose upper surface. Larger specimens may become massive-globose, to ca 15 cm across, and are often angular with ridges and crests. (Cushion forms are also described in the literature, and Arndt (1933) refers to a crust-like form). Surface slippery. Conulate, rather 'spiky' in appearance, due to ends of spicule bundles raising and sometimes penetrating the surface. "Sticky" appearance. Subsurface channels sometimes visible in photographs. Oscules are usually borne on long, white, translucent, almost vermiform chimneys. These are not always present, but there may be two or three per sponge. They are fragile and collapse on collection, leaving whitish patches. Consistency firm, slightly compressible, elastic.
Spicules: (Tethyspira spinosa spics) The main structural megascleres are straight or somewhat curved styles or subtylostyles: up to 1-2 mm x 3-12 µm. Long-spined microtylostyles: ca. 70-120 x 4-6 µm, are also present in a basal layer, but may be scarce and hard to find.
Skeleton: Parallel fibres of long styles are present; these are less closely distributed near the surface, where they become separated by spongin. Some spicules penetrate the surface. There is a scattered basal layerof small acanthostyles of characteristic shape, with long spines. These are easily missed as the basal layer of massive sponges is not always collected or sectioned.
Ecology: On wave exposed circalitoral rock, from 6 m to at least ca. 60 m.
Distribution: A southern species. Recorded recently from British and Irish localities: Salcombe (Prawle Point), Lundy, Skomer, Sherkin Island, Calf of Man, Rathlin Island; reported from Fowey Harbour by Bowerbank. Furthermore continental Channel coast, Brittany.
Etymology: The name refers to the spined auxiliary styles.
Type specimen information: The type is in the Natural History Museum, London: unregistered (Bk.1081) (dry) Fowey Harbour. MCS Voucher BELUM Mc1581, Rathlin Island, N Ireland.


At a casual glance the surface is rather reminiscent of Dysidea fragilis (the skeleton is, of course, completely different). The translucent, waxy appearance is somewhat like that of Haliclona fistulosa, but the latter has a brittle ectosome, produces fistules and has a quite dissimilar spiculation. With experience, this is an easily recognisable species. The identity may be confirmed by the skeleton and especially by the shape of the basal acanthostyles.
The record of Rhaphidostyla incisa reported by Van Soest and Weinberg (1980) from Sherkin Island was found on re-examination to be Tethyspira spinosa (Van Soest, 1987).
There is disagreement over the family assignment of the monotypical genus Tethyspira Topsent (1890). Van Soest et al. (1990) assigned it to the Halichondrid family Dictyonellidae on account of the dendritic spicule tracts of long flexuous styles; Hooper (1991) assigned it to the Poecilosclerid family Raspailiidae on account of the strangely spined acanthostyles resembling those of Endectyon.
Source: Ackers et al., 1992 (D. Moss, B.E. Picton, G. Ackers).

Tethyspira spinosa