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Sowerby, 1806

Species Overview

Spongionella pulchella Sowerby (1806) is a thickly lamellate to cushion-shaped, yellowish brown or green, soft sponge with a finely conulose surface. It is very elastic-spongy. It has no spicules; in stead it has a regular lattice-work of spongin fibres. It is predominantly a deep water species with a somewhat disjunct distribution in the Northern Atlantic and Mediterranean-Azores.

Taxonomic Description

Colour: Yellow, greenish-grey, light buff, brown. Brownish when dried or preserved.
Shape, size, surface and consistency: Usually upright, occasionally branching, but normally a thick lamella as though branches have been webbed together. There is often a small stalked base attached to the rock. Also reported as small cushions. There is a clear, easily detachable, dermal membrane. Surface is regularly conulate, corresponding to the ends of tbe skeletal fibres. Oscules are 0.5-1.5 mm in diameter, set in slight depressions. A few are scattered across the surface, with a closely spaced series of oscules at the outer edge of laminar specimens. Consistency elastic, soft to fairly tough.
Spicules: None. Spongin fibre skeleton.
Skeleton: (Spongionella pulchella skel) A regular lattice of spongin fibres. Thin primary fibres radiate from the base towards the distal margins: 20-30 µm. The secondary fibres lie approximately perpendicular to the primaries: ca. 7-20 µm. Primaries are separated by ca. 200-350 µm. The fibres do not enclose foreign bodies such as sand or broken spicules. The fibres are stratified and the primaries possess a distinct 'pith'.
Ecology: Usually on rock in deeper water and moderate to strong tidal streams, down to 200 m. Also reported at the base of Posidonia (Mediterranean). Rather scarce.
Distribution: North Atlantic (Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Shetland, Ireland, Azores); Mediterranean. Recently recorded from the Northern Irish coast (North Channel) and the Sound of Mull. It is not reported from intermediate well-investigated localities along the south and west coasts of Britain and France.
Etymology: pulchellus (Latin) = small and beautiful.
Type specimen information: Unregistered slide in Bowerbank's Collection. MCS Voucher BELUM Mc1471, Rathlin Island, N Ireland.


The form is somewhat reminiscent of some specimens of Axinella dissimilis with coalescent branches, or possibly Haliclona oculata. However, it is easily distinguished from these by its colour, elasticity and oscules, combining to give a distinctive "giz". In section, the lattice of spongin with no spicules is immediately diagnostic.
In the Mediterranean a second species of Spongionella is found, viz. S. gracilis (Vosmaer, 1886), which has been synonymized in the past. It forms groups of distinct tubes, dissimilar to the growth form of pulchella (cf. Pulitzer-Finali and Pronzato, 1976).
Source: Ackers et al., 1992 (B.E. Picton, D. Moss)

Spongionella pulchella