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Porifera Respiration & Respiratory System

Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

Learn about the aquatic sponges that comprise the phylum Porifera, and examine the interesting and unusual way in which their respiratory system functions.

The Phylum Porifera

Take a deep breath. Now imagine if, instead of lungs, all you had were tiny holes all over your body that did the breathing. Instead of inflating and deflating, you could just keep the same shape and let oxygen flow in and out! This is kind of how a see sponge from the phylum Porifera does it.

The name Porifera comes from the Latin word meaning 'pore bearer.' This is an highly accurate name, because all animals of this phylum have bodies covered in tiny pores that work in one way or another regulate most aspects of their lives.

So what animals are totally covered in tiny pores? Sponges! Some of you may have seen dried out (natural) sponges for sale before. They look a lot like man-made sponges, except they are more irregular in shape, almost exclusively tan in color, and have tiny, irregular pores all over them.

A sea sponge.

The pores are what makes them desirable for cleaning applications, because they can absorb water readily. It is also those same pores that control most aspects of a sponge's daily functions when they are still living.

Sponges are aquatic animals, living in mostly saltwater environments but a few species are found in freshwater. In a live sponge, their pores bring water into their bodies, filled with the nutrients they need to survive.

The pores, called ostia, can also help flush waste products out of their bodies that could poison the sponge if left inside their bodies for too long.

The ostia on this green ball sponge help bring water into and out of the sponge.

Sponge Respiration

The job of any animal's respiratory system is to bring desirable gases into the body, and remove waste gases from the body. In humans, our lungs are responsible for the bulk of our respiratory system activity. But sponges don't have lungs, or any other organs really.

Instead, sponges have a simple body covered in pores, and inside the pore layer, they have a tissue-like material called mesohyl. Within the mesohyl, they have a series of channels that allow water and nutrients to flow and circulate around their bodies.

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