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Sea Cucumbers

The hairy sea cucumber has a fat, rounded, dull brown body that is covered with tube feet. (Jo O'Keefe)
The hairy sea cucumber has a fat, rounded, dull brown body that is covered with tube feet. (Jo O'Keefe)

Sea cucumbers are echinoderms with elongated, spiny-skinned bodies. They live at the bottom of the lower Chesapeake Bay’s deep, salty waters.

Two species of sea cucumbers can be found in the Chesapeake Bay:

  • Hairy or common sea cucumber, Sclerodactyla briareus
  • Pale sea cucumber, Cucumaria pulcherrima

Appearance:

Sea cucumbers have elongated, cucumber-like bodies that are thickest in the middle. They have distinct front and rear ends, with ten finger-like tentacles around their mouth. The hairy sea cucumber is dull brown and grows 4 to 5 inches long. Its fat, rounded body is covered with tube feet. The pale sea cucumber is white or pale yellow and grows 1 to 2 inches long. Its tube feet are arranged in five distinct rows.

Habitat:

Burrow into the sand or mud at the bottom of deep waters, leaving only their head or rear openings exposed.

Range:

Live in the salty waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay.

Feeding:

The sea cucumber uses its tentacles to capture plankton and other tiny particles, then sweeps the food into its mouth.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Sea cucumbers spawn by releasing eggs and sperm into the water, where the eggs are fertilized. During spawning, sea cucumbers develop a cobra-like appearance, with their front end raised up from the bottom. Larvae spend several weeks floating in the water. They eventually settle to the bottom and morph into tiny juveniles. Juveniles take several years to grow to their adult size. Sea cucumbers can live up to eight years.

Other Facts:

  • Related to sea stars. Both are echinoderms, which means “spiny-skinned.” All echinoderms have five-part radial symmetry.
  • If a sea cucumber loses a tentacle, it can grow a new one in about three weeks
  • If you pick up or bother a sea cucumber, it will squirt water from its rear hole. It may even eject its innards! This is a defense mechanism that sea cucumbers use to protect themselves from predators.

Sources and Additional Information:




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