Freshwater Porifera: India

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This is an extract from
Protozoa to Mammalia
State of the Art.
Zoological Survey of India, 1991.
By Professor Mohammad Shamim Jairajpuri
Director, Zoological Survey of India
and his team of devoted scientists.
The said book is an enlarged, updated version of
The State of Art Report: Zoology
Edited by Dr. T. N. Ananthakrishnan,
Director, Zoological Survey of India in 1980.

Note: This article is likely to have several spelling mistakes that occurred during scanning. If these errors are reported as messages to the Facebook page, your help will be gratefully acknowledged.


Freshwater Porifera


A single family, the spongillidae, is represented in freshwatcrs. It includes about 100 species under about 20 genera of which 33 species under 9 gcnem have been reported so far from India.

Freshwater sponges are common in clean ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. Because of their sessile structure and inconspicuous green, brown, grey or yellowish coloration, they are frequently un-noticed. A suitable substrate for the matlike sponge growth may be provided by almost any stable sublnergcd objcct including rocks, pebbles, aquatic vegetation, logs, branches and twigs.

Although the taxonomic study of freshwater sponges began in the mid•19lh century by Lamarck and others but was in a most chaotic stut~ until the revision was made by Bowcrbank (1863) of all the species of SpongiUa. Gray (1867) first established the criteria for their generic differentiation and erected six new genera in addition to Spongilla Lamarck. Carter (1881) ignored Gray's generic names and devised his own system for the inclusion of Bowerbank's species.

After.the publication of the first bibliography of freshwater sponges by Weltner (1893), it was chiefly Annandale (1906 -1919) who began to lay the foundations of an improved and modernised knowledge of spongillid tlxonomy. Annandale reestablished some of Gray's generic names, at least at sub•generic level, and added a number of well•defined new genera to the conglomerate systems of Gray and Carter. Additional revisions were subsequently undertaken by Gee (1926 -1937) Schroder (1926 .. 1942) and Arndt (1923 -1983), to name just a few important contributors, Generic revisions were attempted by De Laubenfels (1936) and Jewell (1952). Penny &Racek (1968) reviewed all the species so far recorded and established 10 genera, including 95 species.

The spongillidae cannot be said to be of any practical benefit to man~ The only harm that has been imputed to them is that of polluting waters, blocking up water -pipes byl their growth and causing irritation to the human skin by means of their spicules.

Historical Resume

i) Pre-1900

The beginning ofSpongiologica/ Researches

One of the pioneers in the scientific study of the freshwater forms was the H.J. Carter, who commenced his investigation, and carried out the greater part of it in Bombay. His long series of papers (1848 -1887) published in the C Annals and Magazine of Natural History' is an enduring monument to Indian Zoology and forms the best possible reference to the study of the Spongillidac.

Contemporary to Carter were two authors whose monographs on the freshwater sponges did much to advance the study of the group, namely, J.S. Bowcrbank, whose account of the species known at that time was published in the 'Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London' in 1882 and the veteran American naturalist, Mr. Edward Potts, whose study of the freshwater sponges cuhninated in his monograph published in the 'Proceedings of the' Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia' in 1887. Carter's own revision of the group was published in the 'Annals and Magazine of Natural History' in 1881. Weltner's catalogue of the known species (1895) is of the greatest possible value to the study of sponges.

ii) 1901-1947

TM golden era ofthe study ofFreshwater sponges

In the early 20th century it was chiefly Annandale (1906 -1919) who studied the Indian Freshwater sponges thoroughly and published a series of papers (1906 -1919). He published 'The Fauna of British India including Ceylon and Burma' in 1911, which includes Freshwater sponges, Hydroids and Polyzoa.

iii) 1948-1990

The present study ofIndian Freshwater sponges

After the pioneering work of Annandale (1906 -1919), the study of Indian Freshwater sponges was practically untouched till the revision of worldwide collection of freshwater sponges by Penney and Racek, (1968).

Based on Penney and Racek (1968) a checklist of freshwater sponges was published by Khera and Chaturvedi (1976) which provided a list of Indian species. Soota, Baskaran and Sexena (1981) described sponges, their ecology and their role as indicators of water quality. Soota and Pattanayak (1982) described nine species and provided keys to all Indian species. Soola, Pattanayak and Sexena (1983) described a new species. Soota, Baskaran and Saxena (1983) described some species and their ecology. Soota and Saxena (1983) described some species of sponges of Rajasthan.

Studies from Different Environs

A review of the study of sponges in freshwater bodies of different states reveals that the states of Kamataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are well explored, but the states of Andaman &Nicobar Is., Andhra "Pradesh Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu &Kashmir, Punjab, Gujarat are partly surveyed"and the remaining states are not at all surveyed. The number of species known in each state are given in the map.

Estimation" of Taxa

The freshwater sponges belong to a single family spongillidae and the world literature reveals that about 100 species under about 20 genera occur in the world. Amongst these, 33 species under 9 genera are reported from India of which 13 species are endemic.

Expertise India


T.D. Soota. Zoological Survey of India 234/4, A.J.C. Bose Road, CalFutta -700 020. 1.G. Pattanayak, Zoological Survey of India Hill Patna, Berhampur, Orissa. 750005.


Seshagiri Rao, &M.A. Khan, Depu. of Zoology, N.B. Science College, Hyderabad -500 002.


A.A. Racek, Box -74, P.O. Wooli, N.S. W. -2462 Australia Cecilia Volkmer -Ribeiro, Museu Ciencias Naturais Fundacao Zoobotanica do Rio Grande do SuI, Caixa Postal, 1188, 90000 Porto Alegre, R.S. Brazil. Frederick W. Harrison, Deptt. of Biology, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, Northern Carolina 28723, U.S.A.

John J. Gilbert, Deptt. of Biological Science, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, 03755, U.S.A. Patricia R. Bergquist, Deptt. of Zoology, University of Auckland, Private Bag, Auckland, Newzealand. Robert W. Pennak, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A.

Selected References

Annandale, N. 1911. Freshwater sponges and polyzoa, Fauna British India, including Ceylon and Burma, pp. 27 -126, 241 -245.

Khera, S. & Chaturvedi, Y 1976. Check-list of Indian Freshwater sponge s. Miscellaneous publication occasional paper No.4, Rec. zool. Surv. India, 1 -29 pp. Penney, J.T. &Racek, A.A. 1968. comprehensive revision of a worldwide collection of freshwater sponges (porifera: Spongillidae). Bull U.S. natn. Mus., No.272 : 184 pp. Soota, T.D., Pattanayak, J.G. &Saxena, M.M. 1983. On some freshwater sponges frQm Gujarat (India). Rec. zool. Surv. India, 81 : 255 -260.

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