sea cucumber

Photograph by @thomaspeschak The currents run at breakneck speeds through the narrows that link this fjord with the Pacific Ocean. There are less than 15 minutes of truly slack water where the currents abide enough allowing me to photograph the dense aggregations of life that survive in this extreme environment. Sea stars, sea cucumbers and many other marine invertebrates brave these testing conditions and thrive due to the vast amount of food delivered by the tidal currents every day. Great Bear Rainforest, Canada. @pacificwild @saveourseasfoundation @thephotosociety @natgeocreative For more images from the miracle seas off British Columbia follow natgeo photographer @thomaspeschak by natgeo


Monsters of the Deep Sea

Found at the depths of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, these deep sea ocean dwellers are both scary and deadly:

  • Frill Shark - has over 300 rows of needle sharp teeth. Its name comes from its frilly-looking gills.
  • Stonefish - perfectly camouflaged to look like a rock on the ocean floor, it is the most venomous fish in the world. It has 13 spines along its back that release the venom, which can kill humans in just a few hours.
  • Sloane’s Viperfish - its teeth are a force to be reckoned with. The fang-like chompers are more than half the size of the viper’s head, allowing the fish to impale prey by swimming at the victim headfirst, mouth agape.
  • Red Octopus - has eight arms with rows of glow-in-the-dark suckers trailing down each arm which are used to attract planktonic prey, like insects drawn to a light.
  • Sea Pig - a type of sea cucumber found in very deep waters throughout Earth’s oceans. Sea pigs travel in large groups numbered in the hundreds, crawling along the sea floor.

Pseudocolochirus axiologus

Pseudocolochirus axiologus is a sea apple, a colorful and somewhat round sea cucumber. They can be found primarily in Indo-Pacific waters. Sea apples are filter feeders with tentacles, ovate bodies, and tube-like feet. They can release their internal organs or a toxin into the water when stressed. The sea apple feeds primarily on plankton, which it filters from the water with its tentacles. It alternately brings each tentacle to its mouth, scraping off the captured plankton.

photo credits: own work, Marrabbio2, Daiju Azuma


GIFs: Deep-Sea Creatures 

Introducing: Amazing creatures that live at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, as captured on this live-stream for the past three weeks. Keep in mind, some of these animals are experiencing bright light for the first time (pic #2, the “wow-what-is-this-thing” fish).  

More GIFs here - you also get to find out what they are.

Brought to you by: Researchers aboard the Okeanos Explorer who operated the sub; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who led the expedition; and GIF-extraordinaire Rose.


Swimming Sea Cucumber - Enypniastes eximia
by ~JadaFitch  -  Oil on Panel 

Second and third images via this site.

Enypniastes eximia (Echinodermata | Holothuroidea) is an important member of the benthic boundary layer community in deep waters. Like most holothurians [sea cucumbers] it feeds on sediments at the bottom of the ocean.  Unlike most sea cucumbers, it isn’t sessile: it swims.

Holothurians⇔ sea cucumbers

Benthic boundary layer ⇔  the sediment at the bottom of a river | lake | ocean and the layer of water directly above it.

Benthic ⇔ the ecological region at the lowest level of a body of water such as an ocean or a lake, including the sediment surface and some sub-surface layers. Benthic organisms generally live in close relationship with the substrate bottom and many are permanently attached to the bottom.

It can be found in every ocean, 500 - 5,000 meters deep and is able to swim up 1,000 meters using front and back swimming structures.

E. eximia finds food by using the tentacles surrounding its mouth to pick up sediments from the sea floor, from which it extracts the attached edible organic material.  

When threatened, the swimming sea cucumber can cover its entire body in a bioluminescent glow.  Direct observations have shown how this bioluminescence is produced. It is  triggered mechanically - when the animal is physically contacted or impacted by something.  

Light emission in this species appears to serve as ananti-predatory strategy, in the sense of being a ‘burglar alarm’. In its dark, near-bottom habitat, physical contact by a predator elicits light production which reveals the presence of the attacker to [the predator’s] own visually-cued predators. The luminescent surface tissue then easily sloughs off, which may also serve to confuse the predator.

Sea cucumbers serve a useful purpose in the marine ecosystem as they help recycle nutrients, breaking down detritus and other organic matter after which bacteria can continue the degradation process.

Some information from Bruce H. Robison, "Bioluminescence in the benthopelagic holothurian Enypniastes eximia“ in Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, May 1992. [ abstract ]

NOAA video

Encyclopedia of Life


Sea pig (Scotoplanes globosa)

Sea pigs are a deep sea-dwelling species of sea cucumber. Sea pigs have several squatty little legs and a giant mouth with which they eat detritus that drops down from the ocean surface. Scientists have found sea pigs in all the world’s oceans including the Southern Ocean off Antarctica. Another weird thing is that the sea pigs get parasites, which is not so surprising, but when you see snail shells growing inside their bodies, it’s pretty creepy. Another weird thing is that the sea pigs get parasites, which is not so surprising, but when you see snail shells growing inside their bodies, it’s pretty creepy.

photo credits: socialvet, eol


Sea Apple - Pseudocolochirus violaceus

It may not seem much an apple, nor a cucumber, but these are colorful sea cucumbers commonly known as Sea Apples belonging to the species Pseudocolochirus violaceus (Holothuroidea - Dendrochirotida - Cucumariidae), which occurs in the Indian Ocean and the western part of the Pacific Ocean.

Sea apples are about 18 cm long. They usually are purple, but also can be blue, red, white, and yellow. Three rows of tube feet run along the bottom side of the animal. The top side has two rows of tube feet as well as small scattered tube feet. The body is curved so that the mouth and anus point upward. They have ten tentacles which are bushy purple to red and have white tips. The pieces of the body wall skeleton are rounded, smooth plates with a few holes.

When relaxed, the normal shape is short and sausage-like as with most other sea cucumbers. When stressed, however, it may inflate itself into a large round ball. 

Sea apples live partly hidden to fully exposed with tentacles expanded, even during the day. They feed continuously, capturing large food particles with outstretched branching tentacles that are lightly coated in mucus. 

These beautiful sea cucumbers unfortunately are harvested for the aquarium trade. Ironically, they do not make good aquarium specimens as they are often toxic to their tank mates. 

References: [1] - [2] - [3]

Photo credit: [Top: ©René Cazalens | Locality: Komodo, Indonesia, 2010] - [Bottom: ©Chuck and Jean | Locality: Manila Ocean Park, Philippines, 2008]


Sea Cucumber Evisceration

a gutsy defense

Everyone's favorite echinoderm the sea cucumber, may seem like a defenseless blob and while that is partially true. Sea cucumbers have devised a simple means of defending themselves from being a predators cucumber salad. When approached by a would be predator the holothuroidean simply eject parts of their gut called cuvierian tubules (which aid in respiration) into the water in hopes of either scaring or distracting the predator. This process is known as evisceration. Now you might be asking how does the sea cucumber do this without dying? That’s simple, the organs that the echinoderm expels are not totally vital and the sea cucumber can grow them back within a couple weeks. And if the whole organ expelling thing doesn’t work some sea cucumbers are known to expel a toxin called holothurin which can kill any animal in its vicinity.


video source

The Pink Sea-Through Fantasia (Enypniastes eximia). This incredible creature was only recently discovered. It is a species of swimming sea cucumber that was found in the Celebes Sea. This is an area of the western Pacific Ocean, bordered by the Sulu Archipelago, Mindanao Island of the Philippines, the Sangihe Islands, Sulawesi, and by Indonesia. It was found at at depth of approximately 8,200 ft. (2,500 m.). It was discovered by a team of scientists and underwater photographers from the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, working in conjunction with others on a research expedition. Virtually no data is available on this creature to date. by OurBreathingPlanet


“Chocolate Chip Sea Cucumber” (Isostrichopus badionotus)

Also known as the Cookie Dough Sea Cucumber, the chocolate chip sea cucumber is a species of Stichopodid sea cucumber which is commonly encountered throughout the western Atlantic Ocean, occurring from North Carolina to the Caribbean and south to Brazil, individuals also occur in western-central Africa. Chocolate chip sea cucumbers typically occur in shallow waters with a wide variety of substrates (sand, mud, rock, etc..). Like most sea cucumbers, I. badionotus is a detritivore combing the sea floor for any detritus it encounters. 


Animalia-Echinodermata-Holothuroideaia-Aspidochrotida-Stichopodidae-Isostichopus-I. badionotus

Images: Hans Hillewaert and Iaszlo-photo

“There is a small, but very interesting group of fishes called the pearlfishes. These fishes live in the ass of sea cucumbers. Yes, this is not a joke: just like hermit crabs use empty shells as cover, the little pearlfish hide in the anal cavity of sea cucumbers, a group of invertebrates related to sea urchins and sea stars. Hard to say who has the worst part of the deal: the fish which live in a, relative to their own size, truly giant ass, or the sea cucumber which has someone residing in its butt. Fish party conversation sample one: "Where do you live?” “Ah, in the sea cucumbers’ ass. The cucumber is well armored, so nobody can eat me while i’m in there. Plus, you know, the rent is cheap.”. Insert awkward pause in conversation here. “Aha.” Another Awkward pause. “Maybe you’d like to come over sometimes, check out my ass?” “Sure. Excuse me for a minute while I grab more chips.” Sometimes mated pairs of pearlfish are found in one sea cucumber ass. Fish party sample conversation two: “Hey…it’s getting late. Do you want to come home with me? I live in a cozy sea cucumber ass…”. And imagine what the sea cucumber - if it had anything like a brain capable of producing language instead of its net-like echinoderm nervous system - would think about such romantic activity in its bowels! “Oh, man, I hate it if that guy living in my ass brings a girl home. I can’t sleep with all that ruckus going on back there.”“ - Klaus M. Stiefel from Sex, Drugs, and Scuba Diving