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Hexactinellid sponges
Temporal range: Cambrian–Recent
Haeckel Hexactinellae.jpg
"Hexactinellae" from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, 1904
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: "Porifera"
Class: Hexactinellida
Schmidt, 1870

See text.

Hexactinellid sponges are sponges with a skeleton made of four- and/or six-pointed siliceous spicules, often referred to as glass sponges. They are usually classified along with other sponges in the phylum Porifera, but some researchers consider them sufficiently distinct to deserve their own phylum, Symplasma.


Various Hexactinellid sponges.

Glass sponges are relatively uncommon and are mostly found at depths from 450 to 900 metres (1,480 to 2,950 ft) although the species Oopsacas minuta has been found in shallow water, while others have been found much deeper. They are found in all oceans of the world, although they are particularly common in Antarctic and Northern Pacific waters.[1]

They are more-or-less cup-shaped animals, ranging from 10 to 30 centimetres (3.9 to 11.8 in) in height, with sturdy lattice-like internal skeletons made up of fused spicules of silica. The body is relatively symmetrical, with a large central cavity that, in many species, opens to the outside through a sieve formed from the skeleton. Some species of glass sponges are capable of fusing together to create reefs or bioherms. They are generally pale in colour, ranging from white to orange.[1]

Much of the body is composed of syncitial tissue, extensive regions of multinucleate cytoplasm. In particular, the epidermal cells of other sponges are absent, being replaced by a syncitial net of amoebocytes, through which the spicules penetrate. Unlike other sponges, they do not possess the ability to contract.[1]

One ability they do possess is a unique system for rapidly conducting electrical impulses across their bodies, making it possible for them to respond quickly to external stimuli.[2] Glass sponges like "Venus' Flower Basket" have a tuft of fibers that extends outward like an inverted crown at the base of their skeleton. These fibers are 50 to 175 millimetres (2.0 to 6.9 in) long and about the thickness of a human hair.

Glass sponges are different from other sponges in a variety of other ways. For example, most of the cytoplasm is not divided into separate cells by walls but forms a syncytium or continuous mass of cytoplasm with many nuclei (e.g., Reiswig and Mackie, 1983).

Venus' Flower Basket, Euplectella aspergillum

These creatures are long lived, but the exact age is hard to measure; one study based on modelling gave an estimated age of a specimen of Scolymastra joubini as 23,000 years, which is thought impossible,[3] but is the basis for a listing of ~15,000 years in the AnAge Database.[4] The shallow water occurrence of hexactinellids is rare world wide. In the Antarctic two species occur as shallow as 33 meters under the ice. In the Mediterranean one species occurs as shallow as 18 metres (59 ft) in a cave with deep water upwelling (Boury-Esnault & Vacelet (1994))


The sponges form reefs off the coast of British Columbia and Washington State,[5] which are studied in the Sponge Reef Project.


Hexactinellid sponge on a xenophorid gastropod.
Pattersonia ulrichi Rauff, 1894; an Ordovician hexactinellid sponge from near Cincinnati, Ohio.

The earliest known hexactinellids are from the earliest Cambrian or late Neoproterozoic. They are fairly common relative to demosponges as fossils, but this is thought to be, at least in part, because their spicules are sturdier than spongin and fossilize better. Like almost all sponges, the hexactinellids draw water in through a series of small pores by the whip like beating of a series of hairs or flagella in chambers which in this group line the sponge wall. (Sponge Gardens)

The class is divided into six orders, in two subclasses:[citation needed]

Class Hexactinellida


  1. ^ a b c Barnes, Robert D. (1982). Invertebrate Zoology. Philadelphia, PA: Holt-Saunders International. p. 104. ISBN 0-03-056747-5. 
  2. ^ Nervous sponge
  3. ^ Susanne Gatti (2002). "The Role of Sponges in High-Antarctic Carbon and Silicon Cycling - a Modelling Approach" (PDF). Ber. Polarforsch. Meeresforsch 434. ISSN 1618-3193. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  4. ^ Hexactinellid information from the AnAge Database
  5. ^ Stiffler, Lisa (2007-07-27). "Reef of glass sponges found off Washington's coast". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 

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17 news items


Tue, 11 Aug 2015 14:53:53 -0700

Hexactinellid glass sponge reefs were common in the world's oceans during the Jurassic era, 200 million years ago, but it was long thought that only individual glass sponges had survived to the modern era. Then in the late 1980s, geophysical surveys of ...


Thu, 11 Jul 2013 09:05:45 -0700

In contrast to what the team observed, some research has previously suggested that hexactinellid species live long, slow lives. One study found that populations of glass sponges in Antarctica's McMurdo Sound showed no growth or reproduction over a ...

The Portugal News

The Portugal News
Thu, 08 Jan 2015 07:22:30 -0800

A new species of hexactinellid sponge – or glass sponge, as they are more commonly known – has been discovered in the Mediterranean Alboran Sea as well as in areas of the Atlantic ocean, such as the Gorringe Bank seamounts off the coast of Portugal.

Scientific American (blog)

Scientific American (blog)
Wed, 14 Mar 2012 03:07:30 -0700

Unique transmission properties of the stalk spicules from the hexactinellid Hyalonema sieboldi, Biosensors and Bioelectronics 21 (2006) 1149-1155. [2] Sally P. Leys and Bernard M. Degnan, Cytological Basis of Photoresponsive Behavior in a Sponge Larva.

Deep-Sea News

Deep-Sea News
Fri, 20 Jan 2012 05:14:21 -0800

The other deeplings (except RickMac) are at the fantastic Science Online conference this week, meeting with other scientist communicators and hatching various plots for DSN's ascendancy to world dominance using, I suspect, some combination of ...

Deep-Sea News (blog)

Deep-Sea News (blog)
Thu, 27 May 2010 04:57:15 -0700

The deep-sea sponge Monorhaphis chuni (Hexactinellida) has the world's largest known biosilica structure! A silicate spicule that can grow up to 3 meters long. That's at least a meter longer than you! I don't really know how to construe to enormity of ...

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Deep-Sea News
Tue, 07 Dec 2010 12:26:15 -0800

Hexactinellid (glass) sponges are phylogenetically the oldest living organisms, dating back to the Cambrian period, 600 million years ago. Silica-collagen-based biomaterials are therefore highly successful from biological, evolutionary and ecological ...


Sun, 10 Jan 2016 22:22:30 -0800

Die Wissenschaftler vermuten hier eine neue Art eines Glasschwammes (Hexactinellid) entdeckt zu haben, Auf den Aufnahmen sind vier rote Punkte zu erkennen. Sie stammen vom Laserlicht der Anlage und dienen als Messskala: Der Abstand zwischen ...

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