Sea Cucumbers belong to the group of animals called echinoderms. Their closest relatives are Sea Stars & Sea Urchins. There are over 1,250 species of Sea Cucumbers that can be found in oceans throughout the world. Sea Cucumbers usually live on the sea floor with only a few species living near the surface of the water and are also called “Sea Cukes”. These animals are used as delicacy and as a part of folk medicine in Asia. Despite increased exploitation of Sea Cucumbers, they are still numerous in the wild. Sea Cucumbers are not on the list of endangered species. Their body shape is similar to a Cucumber, but they have small tentacle-like tube feet that are used for locomotion and feeding. One way that Sea Cucumbers can confuse or harm predators is by propelling their own toxic internal organs from their anus in the direction of attack. The organs grow back and it may save them from being eaten. Depending on the species, Sea Cucumbers normally vary in size from less than an inch to over 6 feet. Sea Cucumbers are scavengers that feed on small food items in the benthic zone (seafloor). Algae, aquatic invertebrates & waste particles make up their diet. They eat with tube feet surrounding their mouths and live on the average, 5-11 years. Some live on the ocean floor and others are planktonic, meaning that they float in the ocean with the currents.
Sea Cucumbers are found in virtually all marine environments throughout the world. Sea Cucumbers exhibit sexual & asexual reproduction. Unlike most terrestrial animals, Sea Cucumbers eggs undergo external fertilization, females release eggs into the water that are fertilized when they come into contact with sperm that males have released. In order for this form of reproduction to be successful, many males & females must be together at the same time. When disturbed, Sea Cucumbers can expose skeletal, hook-like structures that would make them harder for predators to eat. Found only in saltwater, the bodies of Sea Cucumbers are covered with soft, leathery skin instead of hard spines. If you ever encounter a Sea Cucumber and it feels threatened, you could be in for a surprise. Some Sea Cucumbers shoot sticky threads at their enemies, entangling & confusing predators while others can violently contract their muscles and shoot some of their internal organs out of their rear ends. The missing body parts are quickly regenerated. Most Sea Cucumbers are scavengers, moving along the seafloor and feeding on tiny particles of algae or microscopic marine animals collected with tube feet that surround their mouths. The particles they grind down to smaller pieces are further broken down by bacteria and become part of the ocean’s nutrient cycle. This is a similar role to that which earthworms perform on land. Sea Cucumbers are enjoyed as meals for other critters such as fish & crabs. In some places especially Asia countries, Sea Cucumbers are considered a delicacy.