Household sponges, used for cleaning, were inspired by the marine animals of the same name. In fact, before synthetic sponges were made, divers collected certain types of sponges from the ocean floor. These were then dried in the sun before being sold for use as bath sponges.

Because of their appearance, sponges are often mistaken for plants. But they are animals – despite not having the body parts that we normally associate with animals. Neil T., an interpreter at the Vancouver Aquarium, wants to draw attention to these often overlooked animals. That’s why he chose them as April’s Staff Pick of the Month.

Sponges are in the animal group (phylum) Porifera, which means “hole-bearing.” Take a look at the different sponges in the Treasures of the BC Coast gallery and you’ll see why this is an appropriate name. Water, along with microscopic animals and plants (plankton), flow through tiny holes (called ostia) into the sponge. Feeding cells inside the animal gather food before the water exits through the larger holes (called oscula).

Neil T., Aquarium interpreter, with a familiar kitchen sponge in his hands.

Neil T., Aquarium interpreter, with a familiar kitchen sponge in his hands.

Neil says, “They are so unusual. I can’t help but love them! They don’t look like they’re alive, let alone [look] as complex as they are.” He says they give him an “absolute sense of wonder.”

Even though sponges are plentiful in the world’s oceans (there are thousands of sponge species), they are easily missed by Aquarium visitors, so Neil says he takes every chance he gets to point them out.

One more reason why Neil loves these animals is because sponges shelter other animals. In fact, cloud sponges (Aphrocallistes vastus) living in our local waters are nurseries for young rockfish.

Sponges: they’re more than just a stinky, damp cleaning device.

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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