Microciona elliptichela Alander, 1942


Family : Microcionidae

Form: Thinly encrusting.

Colour: Beige, yellow-brown.

Surface: Surface uneven, hispid, due to projecting spicules. Consistency rather loose, although a basal thin spongin layer gives a certain firmness.

Internal characters

Skeleton: The ectosomal skeleton consists of bouquets of styles, partially piercing the skin. They rest on the projecting bundles formed by the long acanthostyles. The choanosomal skeleton consists of acanthostyles firmly attached with their heads in the basal membrane. The largest acanthostyles are found in groups of four and five, surrounded by a large number of small acanthostyles.

Spicules: Megascleres : The ectosomal styles are long, slender and almost straight. The blunt end is somewhat swollen and crowned with very fine straight spines. The shaft is even and slightly tapering along practically the whole of its length, while the extremity itself is rather sharply pointed. These styles measure 400-850 μm in length and have a greatest diameter of 5-7 μm nearest to the swelling at the head-end. The acanthostyles are of very varying form and size, but it is not possible to classify them clearly in groups. The smallest acanthostyles are straight or bent and generally have a fairly clearly marked head. The shaft is provided with reclined spines along the whole of its length on the smallest spicules, but the longer the spiculum is, the longer is the smooth part of the apical end. The large acanthostyles are slightly bent and the heads are not clearly marked off. They are spined only on the head and on a small portion of the shaft nearest to the head. The spines are comparatively small and in shape straight and broadly conical. The medium sized acanthostyles fall, as to shape and appearance, somewhere between the extremes here described. The smallest acanthostyles that were measured were 140 μm in length and 8 μm in thickness, the latter measurement being taken nearest the head. The largest measured 1800 μm in length and 22 μm in thickness.

Microscleres : Isochelae are of two different kinds. The one sort diverges, as to shape, only slightly from the type of isochelae palmatae generally characterizing the genus Clathria(Microciona) , but is provided with a peculiarity in the shape of a median crest projecting from the inside of the shaft. This crest is very thin, and it is sometimes difficult to see it when the chela is lying on its side. When one looks at the chela from in front, the crest is clearly visible as a distinct line in the middle of the shaft. The other kind of chela has a very curious structure. It has arisen from chelae palmatae in the following way: the lateral alae have joined along the sides of the shaft, forming a united elliptic plate. In the same way, median alae have merged into one another to form a united plate, though a more or less distinct line shows where they have grown together. As in the case of the previously described chelae, there is a median crest on the inside of the shaft. This is, however, rather more strongly marked, and as it has a thickened band in its free border it is clearly to be seen also from the side. The plate formed by the lateral alae is twisted in a slight spiral round the longitudinal axis, so that median alae do not lie exactly flush against each other. Owing to this asymmetry, these chelae may look like anisochelae under the microscope: the normal chelae measure 14-16 μm. The ring-shaped ones 15-16 μm in length.

Toxas are of two kinds. The largest have very varying appearances. They vary considerably in length, which may be anything between 45 and 300 μm measured between the points. The thickness varies between 0.5 and 4 μm. The small toxas are slightly bent. They measure 6-12 μm in length and have a greatest thickness of 1-2 μm.

Distribution: Described originally from the Skagerrak. Found more recently at Rathlin Island and the Maidens in the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Also found in deeper water on a Lophelia reef near Mingulay in western Scotland.

Distribution Map from NBN: Grid map (fast) : Interactive map (slower, requires login to view records) : National Biodiversity Network mapping facility, data for UK.

Identity: This species, which is so well characterized by its peculiar chelae, can scarcely be mistaken for any other species. In the Mediterranean there is a species C . cleistochela Topsent (1925) which also has cleistochelae like the present, but that species has much smaller acanthostyles and only a single category of toxas. C . ctenichela shares the ctenichelate condition of the palmate isochelae, and is generally very similar. Possibly the two are synonyms of a variable species.

Editors: Christine Morrow, Bernard Picton & Rob van Soest.

 Picton, B.E., Morrow, C.C. & van Soest, R.W.B., 2011. [In] Sponges of Britain and Ireland