First fossil record of parasitism in Devonian calcareous sponges (stromatoporoids)

Parasitology. 2011 Jan;138(1):132-8. doi: 10.1017/S0031182010001071. Epub 2010 Aug 3.


Introduction: Palaeozoic calcareous sponges (stromatoporoids) are common bio-constructing fossils; they are sometimes found in association with helicoidal structures of unknown biological affinities. The interaction between the tube-forming organisms has usually been classified as commensalism.

Methods: About 260 stromatoporoid skeletons from the Middle Devonian (Givetian) of the Mont d'Haurs section near Givet (Champagne-Ardenne, France) were thin-sectioned and analysed under transmitted light.

Results: Approximately 10% of the examined stromatoporoids (mainly belonging to the genera Actinostroma, Stromatopora and Stromatoporella) contain tubes classified as Torquaysalpinx sp. The Torquaysalpinx organisms penetrated the skeletons of stromatoporoids in vivo (as evidenced by skeletal overgrowths); around the infesting organisms, growth bands are bent down.

Conclusion: Diminished growth rates around the infesting organism demonstrate a negative influence on the host, similar to that seen in the modern demosponge-polychaete association of Verongia-Haplosyllis. This is demonstrated by changes in growth bands. As in the above-mentioned association, the endosymbiont might have been feeding directly upon the tissues of the host. The Torquaysalpinx organisms were gaining habitat and possibly also food resources - for them this interaction was clearly positive. This long-term association can therefore be classified as parasitism. This is the first evidence for parasitism in Palaeozoic sponges.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms / physiology
  • Food Chain
  • Fossils*
  • France
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Invertebrates / physiology*
  • Porifera / growth & development
  • Porifera / parasitology*