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Sea Cucumbers - Vacuum Cleaners of the Sea!

Updated on October 20, 2014

Sea Cucumbers. Nope, Not Vegetables. They're Animals!

Sea Cucumbers are interesting creatures. Yup, they are animals, and not plants or--as their name might imply--vegetables.

Sea cucumbers are relatives of the starfish and sea urchins, of the phylum Echinodermata--Echinoderms have radiating parts--and are also known as Holothurids of the Class Holothuroidea. Although they occur in almost any of the world's oceans, they are extremely common in tropical areas--particularly on the coral reef flats.

And they come in all shapes and sizes (and COLORS)!

Although most folks will be familiar with the common black or brown sea cucumber as shown in the picture in this module, you will learn that sea cucumbers can look like decorative pillows such as the candy-striped specimen and the multi-tufted specimen shown elsewhere on this website. Depending on which marine biology expert you talk to, there are about 1300 known species, and you can find the sea cucumber living in all of the world's oceans.

Sea Cucumbers are bottom dwellers--and eat whatever small things they can filter through their tentacles and mouth in the water and sand near the sea floor. They eat organic material--whether planktonic plant or animal life, bits of broken coral, bits of broken seaweed, fish and marine animal excrement, and so on. They pass this stuff through their bodies and excrete the essentially turned sand, acting much in the same way that terrestrial earthworms digest and process the organic materials in the soil.

This website relates my experiences with these critters and provides links to more resources and references you can get to further your studies!


Catch Up on Sea Cucumbers! ... Not that they are fast or anything like that.. - Maybe fast reading, but not a fast subject!

Sea Cucumbers of British Columbia, Southeast Alaska and Puget Sound (Royal BC Museum Handbook)
Sea Cucumbers of British Columbia, Southeast Alaska and Puget Sound (Royal BC Museum Handbook)

A Field Guide to Sea Cucumbers?

If you're on a beach or oceanside of the Pacific Northwest and you see a sea cucumber, this book may help you to identify it.

(You might even be able to identify a sea cucumber if you are somewhere else.)

Get your copy now!

 

Sea Cucumbers (3 - 4 different species) in a Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam

Sea Cucumbers (3 - 4 different species) in a Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam
Sea Cucumbers (3 - 4 different species) in a Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam
Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!
Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!

Poems (actually Haiku) to the Sea Slugs (Sea Cucumbers)!

A poetic approach to everything holothurid... everything you want to know about sea slugs or sea cucumbers presented in a poetic way--in haiku.

Stimulate that poet in you -- get your copy now.

 

Sea Cucumbers--the Beche-de-Mer! The Trepang!

Sea Cucumber in Holding Tank at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam
Sea Cucumber in Holding Tank at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam

Believe it or not, you can eat many of the varieties of sea cucumbers! Most commonly, you can find sea cucumbers on the menus at Chinese Restaurants--although it may be listed somewhat subtly in the "translation" of the menu.

It may be called "Beche-de-Mer" or "Trepang". Sometimes it will be chopped and cooked in sauce with other seafood such that you wouldn't recognize it as being "something different". Other times, it will definitely look like "something different" on your plate of noodles!

Want Some Sea Cucumbers of Your Own? But Don't Want to Dig 'Em Out of the Beach?

Side View of a Sea Cucumber in Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam

Side View of a Sea Cucumber in Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam
Side View of a Sea Cucumber in Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam

Close Up of Sea Cucumbers in Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam

Close Up of Sea Cucumbers in Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam
Close Up of Sea Cucumbers in Holding Tank, University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam

Not the Best Things You Can Put In Your Aquarium. Or Pick Up, For That Matter!

Sea Cucumber in Holding Tank at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam
Sea Cucumber in Holding Tank at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory, Mangilao, Guam

Sea cucumbers have some quirky habits

One of these habits is their urge to spill their guts whenever you bother them, try to pick them up, or piss them off. They call this evisceration. When this happens, a toxin is released that kills fish. If this happens in your aquarium, consider all the other critters in your aquarium dead.

However, even though this danger exists, the sea cucumbers (also known as "cukes" among certain beach-goers) are hosts to a fish called a "pearl-fish" that lives inside the sea cucumber. The fish protects its host, and at the same time, the cucumber provides a formidable protective home for the fish in a sort of delicate balance.

Common Black Sea Cucumber, Ipao Beach, Tumon Bay, Guam

Common Black Sea Cucumber, Ipao Beach, Tumon Bay, Guam
Common Black Sea Cucumber, Ipao Beach, Tumon Bay, Guam

White and Black Wild Caught Sea Cucumbers on Sale at an Asian Food Supermarket

White and Black Wild Caught Sea Cucumbers on Sale at an Asian Food Supermarket
White and Black Wild Caught Sea Cucumbers on Sale at an Asian Food Supermarket

It Takes Guts to Do This! (Sea Cucumber Guts, That Is!)

Oh, there are other purposes to get sea cucumbers to spew their guts -- and one of those used by many Pacific Islanders when they find themselves stranded on a reef is to make "instant tennis shoes". They step on a few sea cucumbers and get them to spew their guts, and then wrap their feet with those sticky, rubbery-texture "guts" ... this layer of rubbery and sticky stuff acts like a natural barrier to the sharp coral that is also prevalent on a coral reef. When the islanders get to shore, they just peel off the sticky guts and continue enjoying the sand on the beach!

Dried sea cucumbers sold in bulk bins -- Chinatown, San Francisco

Dried sea cucumbers sold in bulk bins -- Chinatown, San Francisco
Dried sea cucumbers sold in bulk bins -- Chinatown, San Francisco

Copyright and Attribution Notice

NOTE: All photographic images in this website, with exception of those obviously in the Amazon, eBay, CafePress, YouTube, and similar sections, were shot on my own camera by me and are thus mine. Likewise, the narrative is original and based on my experiences. Your mileage may vary.

© 2007 David Gardner

Drop a Note and Say Hi!

Submit a Comment

  • VineetBhandari profile image

    VineetBhandari 5 years ago

    awesome lens about nature's creativity. May be nature has created its own cleaning machines as it must have have realized that we as humans only can exploit its resources. Thanks for sharing this information.

  • profile image

    FixbuttonHQ 6 years ago

    Sea cucumbers make me giggle. Awesome lens!

  • profile image

    The Goblins Den 7 years ago

    Interesting creatures, sea cucumbers. Japan loves them, apparently...there's thousands of Haiku poems that have been written about the buggers.

  • wahlees profile image

    Barry Wah Lee 7 years ago from Auckland

    A great topic.We have been selling sea cucumbers for many years in our shop.Just got in some small dried ones with those sharp pointy bits on.

    Recently, Auckland New Zealand has been trying to say that we have had an influx of toxic seaslug/sea cucumbers.This is used as an excuse (maybe truth???) for why some dogs were dying on our beaches.In fact, just before that was happening, there was an aerial drop of broadifacaum(rat poison) and also another poison used a lot in these parts by our so called environmental action department.This was to rid Auckland Islands of animals that are foreign in origin to our native species.Of course, being the vacuum cleaners of the sea that they are, maybe the sea cucumbers did eat up the misdirected haphazard aerial drops of the poisons.

  • profile image

    kesoma_rai 9 years ago

    Hi Dave,

    In Malaysia, we used sea cucumber extract as medicine due to their excellent healing properties.

  • naturegirl7s profile image

    Yvonne L. B. 9 years ago from Covington, LA

    Welcome to the Naturally Native Squids group. Don't forget to add your lens link to the appropriate plexo and vote for it.

  • profile image

    julieannbrady 10 years ago

    Hi Dave! Great lens on sea cucumbers -- my hubby dives and has had the opportunity to see plenty of these type of cucumbers. Personally, I like to eat the other kind of cucumbers ... probably one of my favorite vegies balsamic vinegar. Thanks for dropping by to say hello ... find a $20 in the laundry is a fab find! ;-)

  • Classic LM profile image

    Classic LM 10 years ago

    Hi Dave, I like the orange ones the most! But that is normal, since I love orange ones in everything (except unpaid bills). If you have time, please check out some of my lenses. Thanks for submitting this to Nature and Environment!

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