April 26, 2018
Sea cucumbers (Holothuria) are more active than their name might imply. Members of the phylum Echinodermata, they are closely related to sea stars, brittle stars, and sea urchins. Like those animals, holothurians have tube feet (podia) and a water vascular system that controls them. Most sea cucumbers are deposit feeders, which means they ingest sediments and digest whatever organic material [or bits of food] is mixed in.
This video shows the holothurian Enypniastes eximia deposit feeding on the West Florida Escarpment at more than two kilometers (1.25 miles) depth. The video has been sped up five times faster than normal so that you can clearly see how the sea cucumber grabs “fistfuls” of sediment using modified tube feet that encircle its mouth.
Inside the body you can see a light-colored coil, which are the sediments packed into the long intestine of E. eximia. The hood-like flap above the “head” (technically, sea cucumbers don’t have a head) is composed of webbed podia, and along with similar flaps at the back end, allow the sea cucumber to swim up off the seafloor to move to new areas to feed, which this individual begins to do at the end of the video.
Text contributed by Scott C. France, Department of Biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.