The fire sponge, Tedania
ignis, growing in a turtle grass bed in Belize. Photo courtesy
of Candy Feller, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
A cross section of T. ignis
from Florida. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hill, Smithsonian
Marine Station at Fort Pierce.
Tedania ignis Duchassaing & Michelotti 1864
The fire sponge, Tedania ignis,
is one of several sponges commonly found in western Atlantic
and Caribbean coastal waters, named for the burning sensation
and rash it produces when touched (eg. Kaplan 1988).
The fragile tissue of T. ignis forms large masses,
bright red or orange in color externally and lighter inside
(Voss 1980). Water exits the sponge through 1 cm wide openings
called oscula. Each osculum is located at the top of cones,
areas of the sponge raised approximately 1 cm from the surrounding
Potentially Misidentified Species:
Approximately 5,000 species of sponges
have been described, 90% of which are placed with T. ignis
in the class Demospongiae (Ruppert & Barnes 1994). Several
species of demosponges are found in various habitats within
the IRL, many in association with the fire sponge. However,
the conspicuous T. ignis can be easily identified,
and further microscopic analysis of the shape of the internal
skeletal structures, called spicules, can be used to distinguish
this sponge from many other species.
II. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Regional Occurrence & Habitat
The range of T. ignis extends
from Florida to Brazil, Bermuda and the Gulf of Mexico (Kaplan
1988, Wulff 2006). Masses of the sponge can be found on rocks,
dead coral, in seagrass beds and on the prop roots of the red
mangrove, Rhizophora mangle
The fire sponge can be found in several
areas of the IRL, including: mangroves, seagrass beds and rock
shorelines. Large populations of T. ignis have been
collected from sponge communities growing on jetty rocks at
the Fort Pierce Inlet in St. Lucie County (Jaeckle 1995, Maldonado
& Young 1996).
III. LIFE HISTORY AND
Age, Size, Lifespan:
Little is known about the maximum age and
average lifespan of T. ignis colonies. In many areas,
the fire sponge can encrust large surfaces with a layer about
1 cm thick (Kaplan 1988), and grow in vertical forms up to 30
cm in height (Voss 1980).
The fire sponge is a common species in
Florida waters, occurring in small numbers or large aggregations
depending on environmental conditions and habitat type. Densities
of T. ignis on rocks at the Fort Pierce Inlet of the
IRL were recorded at approximately 9 individuals per square
meter (Maldonado & Young 1996).
Most sponges are hermaphrodites, but they
undergo sexual reproduction by producing either eggs or sperm
exclusively over the course of a reproductive season or period
(Ruppert & Barnes 1994). In addition, several species can
regenerate lost or damaged tissue, and a few sponges can reproduce
asexually through budding. However, little is known about these
processes in T. ignis, and the majority of studies
have focused on sexual reproduction of the species. Eggs are
produced by archeocyte or choanocyte cells, and are fertilized
when the parent takes in sperm from nearby sponges through the
incurrent pore. In T. ignis, fertilized eggs are brooded
in the adult sponge until hatching. Larval release for fire
sponge populations in the IRL occurs from late April through
August, when coastal waters are warm (Maldonado & Young
Numbers of brooded eggs are highest at
the beginning of a reproductive period, with 5 mm2
x 1mm sections of tissue holding approximately 8-12 eggs (Maldonado
& Young 1996). After hatching, larvae are released from
the parent through the ectosome, or dermal layer. Populations
of T. ignis in the IRL usually undergo massive larval
release, followed by small releases of 15-20 larvae over a few
days (Maldonado & Young 1996). Each larva is orange-red
in color, approximately 800 x 600 µm in size, and weighs
about 17 µg (Jaeckle 1995). They are uniformly ciliated
except for the posterior end, which is bare. These cilia and
body contractions allow larvae to swim in a slow corkscrew motion
for the next 48 to 72 hours, after which they settle in shaded
areas, usually near adult T. ignis (Maldonado &
Young 1996). Fusion of larvae and juveniles is common during
IV. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES
Temperature & Salinity:
Little information is available on the
environmental tolerances of T. ignis. However, the
range and distribution of the species suggests it prefers warm
brackish to marine waters.
V. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY
Like other sponges, T. ignis is
a filter feeder. The sponge draws in water through incurrent
pores using flagellated cells called choanocytes (Ruppert &
Barnes 1994). Suspended particles between 0.1 and 1.5 µm
are taken in, mostly consisting of bacteria and other organic
material. The choanocytes partially digest the food material
which is then transferred to other parts of the sponge for final
Although the color and chemical compounds
of T. ignis appear to act as predation deterrents,
a few species find the sponge palatable, including: parrotfish;
the cushioned sea star, Oreaster
reticulatus; and the gray angelfish, Pomacanthus
arcuatus (Wulff 2006).
Little information exists about obligate
associations of T. ignis. However, as inhabitants of
a variety of coastal ecosystems, the fire sponge is associated
with several organisms common to seagrass beds, mangroves, rocky
shores and nearshore reefs. For extensive lists of other species
found throughout the ecosystems in which T. ignis occurs,
please refer to the “Habitats of the IRL” link at the left of
VI. SPECIAL STATUS
In 1984, a potent antitumor compound, known
as tedanolide, was isolated from the fire sponge (Schmitz et
al. 1984). Over the past 20 years, the growing interest
in this chemical compound has prompted the total synthesis of
tedanolide for use in clinical trials, no longer requiring the
use of the sponge for compound production.
& FURTHER READING
de Laubenfels, MW. 1950. The porifera of
the Bermuda archipelago. Trans. Zool. Soc. Lond. 27:
Jaeckle, WB. 1995. Transport and metabolism of alanine and palmitic
acid by field-collected larvae of Tedania ignis (Porifera,
Demospongiae): Estimated consequences of limited label translocation.
Biol. Bull. 189: 159-167.
Kaplan, EH. 1988. A field guide to
southeastern and Caribbean seashores: Cape Hatteras to the Gulf
coast, Florida, and the Caribbean. Houghton Mifflin Co.
Boston, MA. USA. 425 pp.
Keough, MJ & BJ Downes. 1982. Recruitment
of marine invertebrates: the role of active larval choices and
early mortality. Oecologia. 54: 348-352.
Maldonado, M & CM Young. 1996. Effects
of physical factors on larval behavior, settlement and recruitment
of four tropical demosponges. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser.
Mothes, B, Hajdu, E & RWM van Soest.
2000. Tedania brasiliensis new species (Demospongiae,
Poecilosclerida, Tedaniidae) from Brazil, with some remarks
about the genus Tedania in the tropical southwestern
Atlantic. Bull. Mar. Sci. 66: 1-11.
Ruppert, EE & RD Barnes. 2004. Invertebrate
zoology, 6th edition. Saunders College Publishing. Orlando,
FL. USA. 1056 pp.
Rutzler, K. 1986. Porifera. 111-127. In:
Sterrer, W, ed. Marine fauna and flora of Bermuda: A systematic
guide to the identification of marine organisms. Wiley.
New York, NY. USA.
Schmitz, FJ, Gunasekera, SP, Yalamanchili,
G, Hossain, MB & D van der Helm. 1984. Tedanolide: A potent
cytotoxic macrolide from the Caribbean sponge Tedania ignis.
J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 106: 7251-7252.
Storr, JF. 1976. Ecological factors controlling
sponge distribution in the Gulf of Mexico and the resulting
zonation. 261-276. In: Harrison, FW & RR Cowden,
eds. Aspects of sponge biology. Academic Press. New
York, NY. USA.
Voss, GL. Seashore life of Florida
and the Caribbean. Dover Publications, Inc. Mineola, NY.
USA. 199 pp.
Wapstra, M & RWM van Soest. 1987.
Sexual reproduction, larval morphology and behavior in demosponges
from the southwest of the Netherlands. In: Vacelet,
J & N Boury-Esnault, eds. Taxonomy of Porifera.
Springer Verlag. Berlin, Germany. 281-307.
Wulff, JL. 2006. Sponge systematic by
starfish: Predators distinguish cryptic sympatric species of
Caribbean fire sponges, Tedania ignis and Tedania
klausi n. sp. (Demospongiae, Poecilosclerida). Biol.
Bull. 211: 83-94.
Report by: LH Sweat, Smithsonian Marine Station
at Fort Pierce
Submit additional information, photos or comments to:
Page last updated: 17 August 2009
© 2009 Smithsonian Institution