Skip to main content

Sponge-feeding fishes of the West Indies


In an analysis of the stomach contents of 212 species of West Indian reef and inshore fishes, sponge remains were found in 21 species. In eleven of these, sponges comprised 6% or more of the stomach contents; it is assumed that these fishes feed intentionally on sponges. Sponges comprise over 95% of the food of angelfishes of the genus Holacanthus, over 70% of the food of species of the related genus Pomacanthus, and more than 85% of the food of the filefish, Cantherhines macrocerus. Lesser quantities of sponges are ingested by the remaining fish species. Fishes that feed on sponges belong to highly specialized teleost families, suggesting that this habit has evolved in geologically late time. The small number of fish species that concentrate on sponges as food suggests that the defensive characters of sponges—mineralized sclerites, noxious chemical substances, and tough fibrous components—are highly effective in discouraging predation. The two sponges most frequently eaten by fishes have a low percentage of siliceous spicules relative to organic matter, but among the 20 next most frequently consumed species no striking correlation occurs with respect to spicule content. Color and form of the sponge show no special correlation with frequency of occurrence in fish stomachs. Three species of fishes appear to concentrate on one species of sponge, but in these cases over 60% of the food taken consists of a variety of other organisms. Those fishes, more than half of whose diet consists of sponges, tend to sample a wide variety of species. No strong evidence is provided by our data that fish predation is a significant factor in limiting sponge distribution in the West Indian region.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Literature cited

  • Bakus, G. J.: The effects of fish-grazing on invertebrate evolution in shallow tropical waters. Occ. Pap. Allan Hancock Fdn 27, 1–29 (1964).

    Google Scholar 

  • —: Some relationships of fishes to benthic organisms on coral reefs. Nature, Lond. 210, 280–284 (1966).

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergmann, W.: Comparative biochemical studies on the lipids of marine invertebrates, with special reference to the sterols. J. mar. Res. 8, 137–176 (1949).

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergquist, P. R.: The sponges of Micronesia. I. The Palau Archipelago. Pacif. Sci. 19, 123–204 (1965).

    Google Scholar 

  • Dawson, E. Y., A. A. Aleem, and B. W. Halstead: Marine algae from Palmyra Island with special reference to the feeding habits and toxicology of reef fishes. Occ. Pap. Allan Hancock Fdn 17, 1–39 (1955).

    Google Scholar 

  • de Laubenfels, M. W.: A discussion of the sponge fauna of the Dry Tortugas in particular and the West Indies in general, with material for a revision of the families and orders of the Porifera. Publ. Carnegie Instn. Wash. 467, 225 (Pap. Tortugas Lab. 30) (1936).

    Google Scholar 

  • Duchassaing de Fonbressin, P., and G. Michelotti: Spongiaires de la mer caraïbe. Natuurk. Verh. holland. Maatsch. Wet. Haarlem 21, 1–124 (1864).

    Google Scholar 

  • Goreau, T. F., and W. D. Hartman: Boring sponges as controlling factors in the formation and maintenance of coral reefs. In: Mechanisms of hard tissue destruction, pp. 25–54. Ed. by R. F. Sognnaes. Publ. Am. Ass. advd Sci. 75 (1963).

  • Hiatt, R. W., and D. W. Strasburg: Ecological relationships of the fish fauna on coral reefs of the Marshall Islands. Ecol. Monogr. 30, 65–127 (1960).

    Google Scholar 

  • Lowr, R. H.: The fishes of the British Guiana continental shelf, Atlantic coast of South America, with notes on their natural history. J. Linn. Soc. (Zool.) 44, 669–700 (1962).

    Google Scholar 

  • Menzel, D. W.: Utilization of algae for growth by the angelfish. J. Cons. perm. int. Explor. Mer 24, 308–313 (1959).

    Google Scholar 

  • Paine, R. T.: Ash and calorie determinations of sponge and opisthobranch tissues. Ecology 45, 384–387 (1964).

    Google Scholar 

  • Randall, J. E.: An analysis of the fish populations of artificia and natural reefs in the Virgin Islands. Carib. J. Sci. 3 31–47 (1963).

    Google Scholar 

  • —: A revision of the filefish genera Amanses and Cantherhines. Copeia 2, 331–361 (1964).

    Google Scholar 

  • Randall, J. E.: Food habits of reef fishes of the West Indies. In: Proceedings of the international conference on tropical oceanography, Stud. trop. Oceanogr. Miami 5, 665–847 (1967).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

Communicated by G. L. Voss, Miami

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Randall, J.E., Hartman, W.D. Sponge-feeding fishes of the West Indies. Marine Biol. 1, 216–225 (1968).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Sponge
  • Fish Species
  • Late Time
  • Stomach Content
  • Chemical Substance