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Tethya californiana - Orange puffball sponge

Geographic range:
British Columbia to the Gulf of California

Key features:
Bright orange color and spherical shape.

Similar species:

bay (rocky shore), Continental shelf, continental slope, exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore, seamount, submarine canyon
Tethya californiana - Orange puffball sponge image


Primary common name:
Orange puffball sponge
  ITIS code:
Synonymous name(s):
Tethya aurantia, Tethya aurantia var. californiana
General grouping:

Geographic Range
Range description:
British Columbia, Canada to southern California, including the Gulf of California
Northern latitude extent:
  Southern latitude extent:
East longitude extent:
  West longitude extent:

Intertidal Height
Lowest intertidal height:
meters OR -2 feet
  Highest intertidal height:
meters OR -1 feet
Intertidal height notes:
Low intertidal, in crevices and tide pools.

Subtidal Depth Range
Minimum depth:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Maximum depth:
440 meters OR feet
Subtidal depth notes:
Often seen in kelp forests.

bay (rocky shore), Continental shelf, continental slope, exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore, seamount, submarine canyon
Habitat notes:
Low intertidal to subtidal depths reaching 440 m.

Relative abundance:
Very common

Species Description
General description:
Individuals are spherical or sub-spherical, generally the size of a tennis ball (to 8 cm diameter) and bright orange to golden. The surface is crenulated, with sinuous furrows and raised ridges, about 2-4 mm wide and a few mm high. This can vary depending on the conditions and between individuals.
Distinctive features:
This is a member of the Demospongiae, the class of sponges that makes up 80% of known sponges, which may lack spicules, but if present they are made of silica and not calcium carbonate. Tethya has siliceous spicules but the overall feel is very spongy and soft.
Spherical diameter: up to 8 cm

Natural History
General natural history:
The orange puffball sponge is the most commonly known subtidal sponge in central California. Commonly seen in kelp forests attached to the rocky reef, these sponges are easily identified by their spherical shape, bright orange color, and rough surface. In some cases the sessile sponges are overgrown with compound tunicates or fast-growing algae.

Like many sponges, Tethya can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Eggs are internally fertilized but then released into the water column to complete development and eventually settle out. This process takes only 2-3 days. Interestingly, multiple larvae may settle in an aggregation and form a composite sponge, made up of several distinct genotypes. It can also reproduce asexually by forming stalked buds that release into the water column. Or a basal stolon may expand onto the surrounding substrate and form a new sphere, which will remain attached to the parental sphere.
Predators include nudibranchs.
Sponges are sessile suspension feeders.

Feeding behavior
Feeding behavior(s):
Sessile suspension feeder
Feeding behavior notes:
Choanocytes (collar cells) use a flagellum to generate currents, pulling water into tiny pores and then filtering the water, removing plankton and organic detritus. The filtered water is then expelled through an osculum (plural oscula), ejected beyond the boundary layer to avoid recirculation.
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary:
Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary:
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary:
None known.
Listing Status:
Monitoring Trends:
Carlton, J.T. 2007.
The Light and Smith Manual, 4th edition
Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon
University of California Press. 1001 p.

Morris, R.H., D.P Abbott, and E.C. Haderlie. 1980. Intertidal Invertebrates of California. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 690 p.

Data supplied by SIMoN Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Anthopleura xanthogrammica - Giant green anemone

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