Nunavutospongia irregulara

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Nunavutospongia irregulara

Today, the Arctic is a cold and snowy region during the winter and warm during the summer.  Millions of years ago, Canada’s Arctic was a very different place.  The Arctic was a hot, tropical and humid place with warm waters and many different animals that lived in its warm waters.

Image: A fossilized sponge called Nunavutospongia irregulara.

3D View: Nunavutospongia irregulara
Two pink sponges under water.

Why this species is important

One particular animal that lived in the tropical waters of the Arctic millions of years ago is a species of sponge called Nunavutospongia irregulara (its scientific name).  Not to be confused with the common household item found in your sink, sponges are simple animals with a hard outer body that contain numerous pores used for filtering water.


The Continental Drift

The Earth is constantly changing.  Over millions of years the planet’s continents have shifted and continue to do so today.  This geological phenomenon is known as the Continential Drift.

Associated with these drifts are specific geological time periods when air temperature and life on Earth was very different than present day.

This interactive image shows how the Earth’s continents have shifted over millions of years.  400 million years ago the Earth’s land masses were close to one another and near the equator.  Around every 100 million years there were major landmass shifts. By 10 million years ago, the Earth’s continents were located in their current positions.

A map of the world showing the continents shifting between 400 and 10 million years ago.
10 million years ago
400 million years ago

An uncommon species


So far only 20 specimens of this species have been found in the fossil record.


Location location location


When a new species is discovered, usually the scientist who discovers it gets to name it.  Sometimes the species is named after a person, a location or even a famous celebrity!   In this case, this sponge was found on Devon Island in Nunavut, showing how the fossil received part of its name, Nunavutospongia.


In the vaults


Hidden away in the Canadian Museum of Nature’s collection vaults, this 73 million-year-old fossilized sponge can be found.  This sponge existed when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.