Sponges are evolutionary ancient animals composed of two cell layers separated by a gel (mesoglea) containing mobile cells. Sponges are exclusively aquatic and benthic, living fixed to bottom substrates (rocks, shells…). They are found at all depths (from shallow waters up to 5,000 m deep), and alllatitudes.

The Porifera collection has over 20,000 lots and consists of several sub-collections, by authors and campaigns. Most of the specimens are preserved in 70° alcohol after initial fixing in formalin, with only a small proportion of recent additions to the collection being fixed and preserved in alcohol. Some of the collections are dry preserved (Lamarck collection, large specimens). Some species are only represented by microscope slide preparations of their skeletons (spicules and anatomical sections).

A file of all the Porifera species described from 1758 to 2002, with reference to the corresponding specimens or slides stored at the Muséum was assembled by Pr. C. Lévi’s and can be consulted on site, in the specialized library of the Porifera collection. The list of identified specimens and unexamined collections (study material) is also available for researchers to consult. A database has been compiled for the Topsent collection catalogue, through the World Register of Marine Species, with data available on the website "World of Porifera", curated by sponge taxonomists.

The historic collections date from the end of the 18th century, with the first naturalist collections of Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck containing specimens from the Turgot cabinet and some herbaria from the 17th century. The Lamarck collection mainly contains sponges from Australia (west and south coasts) brought back by Péron and Lesueur, and from the Antilles, collected by Maugé. From 1820 to 1880, some forty collections of varying importance and very diverse geographical origins (Duchassaing and Michelotti, Michelin) were deposited at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Many of them have not been studied to this day, except for the Lamarck collection which was studied by E. Topsent. Eminent spongiologist Emile Topsent began his study of Spongiaria around 1886 and continued throughout his life, until after the Second World War. He studied the specimens of Prince Albert’s Oceanographic Campaigns, stored in Monaco, and gave the Muséum many collections (French Coasts, Antarctica, Red Sea, Indo-Pacific) and some of his many types, as well as his collection of microscope preparations (around 4,000 spicule and skeletal sections on slides) and his library.

Having arrived at the Muséum in 1966, Claude Lévi studied various collections, particularly those from South Africa, and those from campaigns with the ship Calypso. Many collections were later added to that of the Muséum: those after 1966 included collections of coastal and bathyal sponges from New Caledonia, as well as from French oceanographic expeditions in the Atlantic Ocean (Thalassa and Biaçores campaigns) and in the Indian Ocean (Musorstom). All the spicule and skeletal section slides made by C. Lévi (around 4,000) were added to those of Topsent, which were already registered.

Collections assembled and studied by J. Vacelet (hypercalcified sponges and Mediterranean sponges, Cladorhizidae… over 150 types), and the collections assembled and studied by N. Boury-Esnault (Mediterranean, Kerguelen Islands, Azores and Brazil)), and by R. Borojevic (calcareous sponges) are also deposited at the MNHN. Several donations continue to enrich the Muséum’s collections, includingmaterial from Terre-Adélie and Antarctica (Arnaud and Vacelet collection), from the Madagascar region and the Mozambique canal (Vacelet and Vasseur collection), and from the Mediterranean and Antilles (Perez, Ereskovsky…).

The Topsent, Lévi, Vacelet and Boury-Esnault collections are frequently consulted for systematics research. The Lévi collection of New Caledonian demosponges is a reference for faunistic studies in the Indo-Pacific. The Hexactinellid and "Lithistid" Demosponge collections are also a first-class reference source which is particularly helpful to palaeontologists.

Isabelle Domart-Coulon, Curator
Tel. +33(0)1 40 79 48 08