Hunt for a neotype – first findings!

Article | Updated 1 years ago

In August 2016 the Western Australian Museum asked Geraldton beachcombers, divers, swimmers and anglers to be on the lookout for a very rare marine sponge, Agelas axifera.

This sponge is unique to the Champion Bay area of Geraldton. A holotype was collected in 1905 and sent to Germany for scientific study. Unfortunately that specimen was destroyed during World War II.

Over the past year the WA Museum Aquatic Zoology department, headed by Dr Jane Fromont, have been searching for a new specimen to create a neotype for this species. A holotype is the first example of a named species ever identified, described and published. A neotype is the specimen used when the holotype has been lost or destroyed.

Not an Agelas axifera, but this specimen from the Houtman Abrolhos Islands looks

Not an Agelas axifera, but this specimen from the Houtman Abrolhos Islands looks similar to the rare sponge the Museum is looking for.
Image copyright WA Museum 

The Western Australian Museum is appreciative of the members of the Geraldton public who submitted sponges that they thought might be the elusive Agelas axifera. Sadly, none of them were, but here is what they did find!

Geraldton Sponge Findings

Want to join the search?

“I would encourage everyone in the Geraldton area who explores the beach to look out for a cup-like sponge with a bumpy surface, and possibly a light brown colour," says Dr Fromont.

“The best time to make such a discovery is after a storm or whenever Geraldton has big seas. This is when kelp and sponges are torn off the bottom of the ocean and are washed on to the shore.”

People are asked to first photograph a sponge in situ using their camera or smart-phone so the image records the GPS location of the find. They can then take their discovery to the Museum of Geraldton to be tested.

“Museum staff will perform a bleach test on a small piece of the sponge to determine if it has the characteristic spicules of the Agelas species and, if this is the case, they will preserve the collected specimen in ethanol and arrange for its transport to Perth.”

“Sponges up to 12 months old may still have molecular value so if you think you found something like the Agelas axifera in recent times, and you still have it, you can also bring this to the Museum to be assessed.”

The discovery of a neotype would help the WA Museum identify other sponge specimens in the State Collection, by providing a known example of Agelas axifera for comparison.