The Zoology Museum

Venus' flower basket

The humble bath sponge (Spongia officinalis and a few relatives) is a drab, inert and lifeless object that gives little hint of the colour and diversity to be found among the 10,000 living sponges.

Although their life functions at a cellular level, with no evidence of a nervous sytem, sponges are well co-ordinated, as can be seen from the beautifully symmetrical forms of some of the deeper-water species.

Sponge Euplectella aspergillum
Photograph: Martyn L Gorman

The one shown here is the bleached skeleton of the Venus' flower basket Euplectella aspergillum belonging to the small group of glass sponges (Hexactinellida). They are characterised by a skeleton composed of microscopic, six armed silica spicules. The exquisite white skeleton of these sponges was much admired by the Victorians and a pair to be mounted under a glass dome, could fetch 5 guineas (equivalent to £3,500 today, based on average earnings).

The species was described, and named, in 1841 by the great anatomist Sir Richard Owen, first Director of the British Museum Natural History and inventor of the word Dinosaur (terrible lizard).

Sir Richard Owen 1804-1892