Fall Collecting Trip: Guest Blogger - Suzanne Rose

One of the more interesting creatures that I saw yesterday was a tiger's tail sea cucumber. OK, these critters aren’t exactly exciting to look at. Resembling a piece of dark brown, thick rope with rough edges, the vast majority of divers will swim right over a tiger's tail. But what caught my eye was the fact that the part that stuck out from the reef onto the sand was slowly sweeping back and forth like a vacuum cleaner. This was not a length of rope. I took a photo and moved on, but back on board the RV Coral Reef II, I looked up sea cucumbers.

Tiger's tail sea cucumber (photo courtesy of Suzanne Rose)

Sea cucumbers have soft bodies that resemble slugs. They don’t have spines, although their "skin" does seem to have a rough texture, almost like flaking tree bark (at least in the case of the tiger's tail). Tube "feet" help the animal crawl across the bottom, and modified tentacles help pull food into its toothless mouth. In the case of the tiger's tail, only the front part of the body extends out from the reef and onto the sand, allowing it to pull back into the reef and hide if disturbed by something, or someone like me. The tiger's tail, which can grow to six feet in length, is probably the most common sea cucumber in the Bahamas, but that's followed closely by the donkey dung sea cucumber, which also resembles its namesake.

The Guide to Marine Life: Caribbean, Bahamas, Florida by Marty Snyderman and Clay Wiseman offers an excellent, though relatively brief, discussion—and some truly disgusting facts about sea cucumbers. Sea cucumbers ARE the vacuum cleaners of the reef, so my analogy was apt. The authors write, “Using their brush-like mouths, they ingest and process organic material from the sediment and sand found around reefs. Sea cucumbers often leave neat rows of deposits of excreted inorganic materials behind them.

Suzanne and her trusty camera! (photo courtesy of Sarah Taylor)

“Some sea cucumbers possess the ability to eviscerate or expel their thick stomachs when threatened. Predators get distracted or repelled by the expelled stomach, and the sea cucumber chugs on. Amazingly, sea cucumbers can regenerate a new stomach in only a few days.”

Just the sort of information I love digesting over breakfast!

-- Suzanne

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