Text Size: A  A  A

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


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


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


  • Live in the salty waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay


  • Use their tentacles to capture plankton and other tiny particles, then sweep the food into their mouth

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • 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
  • 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:

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved