Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sea cucumbers

Photo by pfly 
Behold the California (or giant) sea cucumber! 


That colorful skin reportedly contains a toxin that deters most predators. Still, a sunflower star might be interested in a munch. If one of those multi-armed sea stars attacks, a cucumber's main defense is to eviscerate itself. The animal contracts, which squeezes the water inside its body, exerting pressure that forces out its internal organs, usually via the anus. Apparently the idea is that the predator will be interested in the offal, and let the cucumber make its getaway (it has tiny tube feet, so it's kinda a slow getaway).


The loss of internal workings doesn't seem to hinder the creature, and it regrows them within a few months. Which is good, since it seems to be its standard response to everything else it finds unpleasant, such as internal parasites, dirty water, or changes in water temperature.


Have you ever seen a sea cucumber?

9 comments:

  1. Not that I notices but I'll certainly be looking now. I assume these are salt water types and seldom pickled.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Right! Saltwater animals and they grow to about 16 inches long (and some smaller species of sea cucumber are called "gherkins"!). 

    ReplyDelete
  3. Usually it's the Cuvier's tubercules that get ejected. Google them and you'll get a detailed explanation. If things get really bad, the guts get ejected. Have never seen this particular species, but  we have quite a few sea cucumbers in Australia. Some species are eaten regularly in South-East Asia - can't imagine doing that myself, but I have enjoyed jellyfish soup, so I guess there's not much difference!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the extra info. Some years back there was concern that our native sea cucumbers would be fished out for the Asian market, but I haven't heard recent concerns about that...

    ReplyDelete
  5. In St. Thomas  on a snorkel excursion I got to play with a"donkey dung" sea cucumber in the wild. It wasn't nearly as pretty as the Giant Californian. 

     And I've seen them in aquariums of course.

    Now I'm considering a haiku on the gutless wonder.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Whoa---isn't it amazing, the variety of defenses out there.  But with all our current environmental hazards, and his need for a few months to grow back what he expells, seems like he'd get behind! 

    ReplyDelete
  7. p.s. well written post, btw---offal---such a great word---

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sallie (FullTime-Life)March 2, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    'hmmm, that is kind of an amazing defense strategy.  I've seen lots of interesting creatures in tide pools (in the Pacific NW, not here in Florida, but I don't think this one.  

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've never seen one...but always wanted to!

    ReplyDelete