By Blane Perun
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Part of the Holothuroidea class, this echinoderm is called the sea cucumber. The sea cucumber may be found on the ocean’s floor all over the world and it is known for its leather like skin as well as its long body similar to an actual cucumber. People who see a sea cucumber out of the water may actually believe it to be a real cucumber grown on land it looks so much alike. Below the leathery skin of the sea cucumber lies an endoskeleton.
In most cases, sea cucumbers eat whatever debris they find in the ocean’s benthic zone. This makes them considered scavengers. The type of food the sea cucumber finds in this part of the ocean includes organic matter that is decaying as well as plankton. The sea cucumber’s tentacles significantly help in the quest for food. These tentacles allow them to catch any type of food source that might be floating through a current. In addition, they can dig through the sand to find food sources. This further shows how the sea cucumber is a scavenger.
Some sea cucumbers that live in coral reefs are actually able to trap would-be predators with their cuvierian tubules. These tubules are sticky and they sometimes are released if the sea cucumber is startled. However, the tubules do grow back within a few weeks time. The actual amount of time it takes a sea cucumber to re-grow their tubules depends on the type of sea cucumber in question. Some may take as little as a week and a half while others may take up to five weeks.
Sea cucumbers are quite plentiful on the floor of the ocean and they make up the majority of the sea animals found here. The amazing thing about sea cucumbers is that they are able to control their buoyancy meaning they can easily stay on the ocean floor or float through the water to find a new location without expending a great deal of energy or effort.
It is amazing how dense sea cucumber population can be in some places of the world. In fact, in one area of New Zealand the strawberry sea cucumber makes the shallow water look like strawberry fields because there are so many. In fact, up to 1,000 sea cucumbers per square meter are found there.
You may be wondering how the sea cucumber "breathes." Basically, the sea cucumber uses its respiratory trees to take oxygen from the water. These "trees" come from inside the sea cucumber’s anus so when they "breathe" the water in it goes through the anus and then is expelled. Some small fish actually live inside the sea cucumber’s anus for protection, to find food, and also to mature into larger fish capable of taking care of themselves. Some worms and crabs also call this area of the sea cucumber home.