More things than you wanted to know about sea cucumber bottoms

They may look like a soggy sausage and seem just about as threatening as one – but sea cucumbers have a trick or two up their… anus? Yep, in the face of danger these unsuspecting specimens can turn secret assassins and shoot organs through their body wall, out their mouth or even out their anus. Much to the horror of any would be predator.

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Just delightful: Sea cucumbers become secret assassins by squirting stuff out of their anus. Photo: Flickr/Klaus Stiefel

Exactly which organs varies widely between different sea cucumber species. From just a small part of their digestive tract to almost their entire internal structures; the stomach, respiratory tree, gonads, nerve ring – the lot!

In some tropical sea cucumbers, Cuvierian tubules are fired; white, spindly structures that normally lay beneath their equivalent of gills. When shot from anus, they become long and sticky and, depending on the species of sea cucumber, may scare off, immobilise or even kill a potential predator!

Wanna see it in action? Of course you do…

Self-mutilation yes, but it isn’t suicide in the way a bee sting ends. Most of the time sea cucumbers can regenerate these structures, some in as few as seven days and others as long as 145. Interesting too, while not all sea cucumbers have the special ability of dispelling their interiors, all have some sort of regeneration power at least.

So, helpless and humble? I think not. Sea cucumbers deserve a little more cred than that. Their amazing bodies possess the powers of ejection and regeneration and, for that, they deserve a double take and a doubly big dowsing of odd organisms love.


References:

Hickman, C., Roberts, L., Keen, S., Eisenhour, D., Larson, A., & I’Anson, H. (2011). Integrated principles of zoology (fifteenth edition). New York: McGraw-Hill

Vandenspiegel, D., Jangoux, M., & Plammang, P. (2000) Maintaining the line of defense: regeneration of cuvierian tubules in the Sea Cucumber Holothuria forskali (Echinodermata, Holothuroidea). The Biological Bulletin, 198, 34-39. Retrieved from: http://www.biolbull.org/content/198/1/34.full.pdf

(2010) Giant, Unkown Animals Found off Anterctica. Retrieved September 27, 2013 from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/03/photogalleries/Antarctica-pictures/photo9.html

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