Animals in subkingdom Parazoa represent the simplest animals and include the sponges, or phylum Porifera (Figure 15.8). All sponges are aquatic and the majority of species are marine. Sponges live in intimate contact with water, which plays a role in their feeding, gas exchange, and excretion. Much of the body structure of the sponge is dedicated to moving water through the body so it can filter out food, absorb dissolved oxygen, and eliminate wastes.
The body of the simplest sponges takes the shape of a cylinder with a large central cavity, the spongocoel. Water enters the spongocoel from numerous pores in the body wall. Water flows out through a large opening called the osculum (Figure 15.9). However, sponges exhibit a diversity of body forms, which vary in the size and branching of the spongocoel, the number of osculi, and where the cells that filter food from the water are located.
Sponges consist of an outer layer of flattened cells and an inner layer of cells called choanocytes separated by a jelly-like substance called mesohyl. The mesohyl contains embedded amoeboid cells that secrete tiny needles called spicules or protein fibers that help give the sponge its structural strength. The cell body of the choanocyte is embedded in mesohyl but protruding into the spongocoel is a mesh-like collar surrounding a single flagellum. The beating of flagella from all choanocytes moves water through the sponge. Food particles are trapped in mucus produced by the sieve-like collar of the choanocytes and are ingested by phagocytosis. This process is called intracellular digestion. Amoebocytes take up nutrients repackaged in food vacuoles of the choanocytes and deliver them to other cells within the sponge.