A sponge (Tethya hibernica)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Tethya hibernica is a contractile sponge with a spherical body that can reach 0.5 cm to 2.5 cm in diameter. Its body is brown to yellow in colour and is commonly partially covered in silt. The mouth-like aperture (osculum) is inconspicuous and located at the centre of the upper surface. The size, shape and arrangement of the skeletal spicules are important for the taxonomic identification of this species but require microscopic examination.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Recorded off the north-east coast of Northern Ireland. Rathlin Island off the coast of County Antrim is its type locality.

Global distribution

Tethya hibernica has only been record from Northern Ireland.


Tethya hibernica is found attached to boulders in relatively deep water and is commonly associated with sponge species Axinella damicornis, Axinella pyramidata and other encrusting sponges.

Depth range

30-35 m

Identifying features

  • Spherical body reaching 0.5 cm to 2.5 cm in diameter.
  • Brown to yellow in colour.
  • Body is contractile and compressible.
  • Osculum is inconspicuous.
  • The main and auxiliary megascleres (spicules) are blunt or rounded at each end.
  • The main megascleres lack spiny rays and are slightly curved towards the tips.

Additional information

Tethya hibernica is part of a pan-European clade of sister species including Tethya citrina and Tethya norvegica, which have recorded distributions around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. Research has suggested that Tethya hibernica is most closely related to Tethya norvegica with a 4.1% genetic difference in base sequence data. These two species share body characteristics such as colour and size, but differ by the presence of auxiliary megascleres and lack of spiny rays in the megasters of Tethya hibernica (Helm et al., 2007).


  1. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 2017. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  2. Heim, I., Nickel, M., Picton, B. & Brümmer, F., 2007. Description and molecular phylogeny of Tethya hibernica sp. nov. (Porifera, Demospongiae) from Northern Ireland with remarks on the European species of the genus Tethya. Zootaxa, 1595, 1-15. DOI https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.178678

  3. Nickel, M., Bullinger, E. & Beckmann, F., 2006. Functional morphology of Tethya species (Porifera): 2. Three-dimensional morphometrics on spicules and skeleton superstructures of T. minuta. Zoomorphology, 125 (4), 225. DOI https://doi.org/10.1007/s00435-006-0022-0

  4. Picton, B.E., Morrow, C.C. & van Soest, R.W.B., 2011. [In] Sponges of Britain and Ireland: http://www.habitas.org.uk/marinelife/sponge_guide/sponges.asp?item=C2134


  1. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from: https://www.nbnatlas.org.

  2. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. www.iobis.org. Accessed: 2024-07-21


This review can be cited as:

Nash, R.A., 2021. Tethya hibernica A sponge. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 21-07-2024]. Available from: https://marlin.ac.uk/species/detail/2336

Last Updated: 09/03/2021