Recruitment to the reef
column spacer Recruitment to the reef: sexual reproduction

Spawning, larval development, & dispersal of larvae

This section deals with spawning, larval development, & dispersal of larvae in sponges. The same topic for other reef organisms can be accessed via the icons. Other topics relating to recruitment, namely, SETTLEMENT & METAMORPHOSIS and SURVIVAL DURING EARLY LIFE, are found in their own sections. hot buttons for spawning/metamorphosis/dispersal section of BCCR website hot button for sponges section on spawning/metamorphosis/dispersal hot button for corals section on spawning/metamorphosis/dispersal hot button for snails section on spawning/metamorphosis/dispersal hot button for sea urchins & relatives section on spawning/metamorphosis/dispersal hot button for fishes section on spawning/metamorphosis/dispersal

Spawning, larval development, & dispersal of larvae: sponges

seahorse dive leader for Biology of Caribbean Coral Reefs website photograph of spawning tube-sponges taken from a video

"Well, what have we here? Some brown tube-sponges, and both sexes are spawning. The males are the smoking chimneys, while the females are spewing out a ropey substance containing eggs" - Florida 2002. Video courtesy James Constable, Florida 

NOTE Ageles conifera

photograph of giant sponge Xestospongia muta with eggs In Carrie Bow Cay, Belize, giant barrel sponges Xestospongia muta spawn in spring, with males and females releasing their gametes at the same time. Ritson-Williams et al. 2005 Coral Reefs 24: 160. Photographs courtesy the authors. photograph of giant sponge Xestospongia muta releasing sperm
Eggs of giant sponges Xestospongia muta are negatively buoyant   ...while sperm forms a diffuse cloud in the water column

photograph of a spawning sponge Ageles conifera, courtesy Anne Dupont, FloridaIn sponges, fertilisation of eggs occurs inside or outside the parent depending upon species. In brown tube-sponges Ageles conifera it occurs outside of the female sponge photograph of spawning sponge courtesy Anne Dupont, Floridaand, after 1-2d of development, the motile larvae hatch out and swim away. Photographs courtesy Anne Dupont, Florida.

Close view of the
eggs of a sponge 1X


Ropey egg-festoons of the brown
tube-sponge Agelas conifera 0.15X


diagram of spawning vase spongeThe larvae of sponges have flagella for locomotion, but are free-living for only a few moments. For this reason, recruitment is usually only a short distance from the parent.

After settlement, the larva metamorphoses, and within a few months has reached juvenile size of a few millimeters in height.


Not surprisingly, in view of the variability seen within invertebrate taxa, the above accounts present an almost too-simple picture of sponge reproduction. In fact, a species-by-species account reveals remarkable variable in spawning times and duration, and even in whether sexes are separate. The following information is based on a study done on 3 common species in Curacao. Hoppe 1988 Coral Reefs 7: 45. Photograph of Urcinia strobilina courtesy Geoff Schultz, U.S. GeoffSchultz'sBluejacketSailingSite.

photograph of black-ball sponge Urcinia strobilina photograph of touch-me-not sponge Neofibularia nolitangere photograph of orange elephant-ear sponge Ageles clathrodes

BLACK-BALL SPONGE Urcinia strobilina
• breeding Sept-Apr (8mo)
• sexes mostly separate
• viviparous (fertilisation internal, larvae released)

TOUCH-ME-NOT SPONGE Neofibularia nolitangere

  • see below
• breeding season short
• hermaphroditic
• eggs & sperm released synchronously
photograph of sponge Neofibularia nolitangere spawning

TOUCH-ME-NOT SPONGE Neofibularia nolitangere

photograph of male sponge Neofibularia nolitangere spawning in Curacao
  • A 2yr study in Curacao reveals that both sexes spawn over a 2mo period in autumn, each spawning occurring 3d after full moon and each session lasting for 3d. Of the 99 sponges monitored, all spawned from mid-afternoon until dusk. The authors remark on a reproductive strategy that maximises fertilisation efficiency and recruitment success through short-duration synchronous spawning. Hoppe & Reichert 1987 Mar Biol 94: 277; photographs courtesy the authors

LEFT: Shortly after release from a female, the eggs become sticky and negatively buoyant.

RIGHT: Dense white “smoke” of sperm being released from a male.