The Fire Sponge (Tedania ignis) is a conspiciuous sponge that forms rough, bright orange crusts with occasional openings (oscules, through which water is expelled) on hard substrates. As one of the most common, readily collected, and easily manipulated species in shallow waters of the tropical western Atlantic, it has been used in investigations of sponge chemistry, larval biology, and ecology. It is one of a number of sponges that causes contact dermatitis in humans. (Kaplan 1988; Wulff 2006)
Tedania ignis sponges brood embryos and release parenchymella larvae. In a study in Florida (Maldonado and Young 1996), larval release started in late April, during a period of rise in water temperature. At the beginning of the reproductive season, embryos were found in 90 to 100% of the individuals. These sponges appear to be simultaneous hermaphrodites (i.e., both male and female). Densities of eggs and embryos were highest at the beginning of the reproductive period. Tedania ignis parenchymella larvae are red-orange elongate spheroids and are uniformly covered with short cilla, except for the posterior end, which is bare. Larvae can temporarily constrict the middle of their bodies, as well as extrude and protract the anterior ends. Larvae swim with a clockwise corkscrew motion and with the flagellar end directed backwards. In contrast to some other sponge larvae, T. ignis larvae never swim vigorously; they remain near the bottom unless disturbed by water turbulence. Larvae of T. ignis stop corkscrew swimming after 12 to 72 hours, crawl for a variable period of time, and finally attach by the anterior pole. Maldonado and Young found that T. ignis larvae that did not settle within about 96 hours lost their body cilia and became lethargic. Nevertheless, most of these lethargic larvae were able to attach about 2 days later, and they ultimately became healthy juveniles. A single osculum appeared in juveniles about 2 days after settlement. Larvae were photonegative during the whole swimming period under laboratory conditions.
Larval release extends over a long period of time, and it is not a synchronous event at either the individual or population level. In most demosponges, larvae are expelled through the oscula by the outgoing water effluent. Larvae of T. ignis leave the body of the parent by creeping through the ectosome. This is very unusual for demosponges. Most sponge larvae, including those in this study, display a crawling behavior for a few minutes or hours just before settlement. This behavior is accompanied in some cases by extrusion of the anterior end of the larva. (Maldonado and Young 1996)
Tedania ignis is found in tropical shallow waters of the western Atlantic. It is abundant on mangrove roots in the Caribbean. A very similar species, Tedania klausi, is found in seagrass habitats as well as among mangroves. Tedania ignis is eliminated from seagrass habitats by predation by the sea star Oreaster reticulatus, and T. klausi seems not to do as well in mangrove habitats as does T. ignis.(Wulff 2006).
Chemical defenses are an important antipredatory strategy of Caribbean sponges. In contrast, sponge skeletal components
do not appear to serve an antipredatory function. (Waddell and Pawlik 2000 and references therein)
The Fire Sponge (Tedania ignis) is common throughout the tropical western Atlantic (Wulff 2006).
Tedania ignis has been reported from much of the coast of Brazil and throughout the wider Caribbean region: from Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama, to Belize, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bahamas, to the Indian River Lagoon, northern Gulf of Mexico, and Bermuda (Wulff 2006 and references therein).
Reports have not been confined to the tropical western Atlantic. Sponges similar to T. ignis were collected in Hawaii and Palau and referred to as a distinct subspecies, T. ignis pacifica. Like the Hawaii specimen, a sponge collected in Guam and identified as T. ignis has small spicules relative to Caribbean Tedania. These Pacific "T. ignis", however, require further investigation. The volcano-shaped mounds, transluscent inflated vertical canals, and white flecks in the ectosome of this navigation-buoy-dwelling sponge from Guam match the external characteristics of T. klausi (the cryptic species known from Caribbean seagrass beds), raising the possibility that T. klausi may have recently colonized the Caribbean from the tropical Pacific--or vice versa. (Wulff 2006 and references therein)
Ellison et al. (1996) studied the interactions between Tedania ignis and Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) on mangrove cays in Belize. On these cays, subtidal prop roots of mangroves at the water's edge often extend 1 to 2 meters below lowest low water before anchoring in the substrate. These roots host a community of algal and invertebrate epibionts dominated by massive sponges. Mangroves provide the only habitat (hard substrate) for sponges in this ecosystem. Results from experiments by Ellison et al. indicated that the growth of sponges on mangrove roots benefited both the sponges and the tree. Sponges grew faster when on mangrove roots and roots covered with sponges both exhibited increased root growth and were attacked less by wood boring isopods (the limnoriid Phycolimnoria clarkae), which themselves reduce root growth. The increased root growth appeared to be attributable at least in part to the transfer of inorganic nitrogen from sponges to roots via adventitious fine rootlets. Not only do mangrove roots obtain dissolved inorganic nitrogen from sponges, but also sponges assimilate carbon that is passively leaked from mangrove roots. Thus, where they occur together, massive sponges and mangroves are facultative mutualists. (Ellison et al. 1996)
Contact with Tedania ignis may cause contact dermatitis in humans. Typically, symptoms include initial prickling, itching, and moderately painful irritation lasting for 15 minutes to 24 hours. Delayed reactions in some cases may include moderate to severe pain and itching, skin redness, swelling and blistering, and skin peeling. (Isbister and Hooper 2005)
According to Burnett et al. (1987), there is initially no reaction to contact, but after a few minutes to hours a stinging or itchy sensation occurs that may persist for several weeks. The stinging sensation or paresthesia ("pins and needles") may increase in intensity for the first two to three days. Eye contact with the sponges can produce iritis or corneal lesions. Local treatment with cold soaks can reduce symptoms. The surface slime on the sponge seems to produce the dermatitis: touching wet sponges produces worse symptoms.