There is something quite intriguing about sea cucumbers. Divers often point to the blobs on the sea floor inquisitively. After a recent naturalist course I asked the enenvitable question….”so, cucumbers…….hmmmm?!!” and was then tasked with writing a bit about sea cucumbers, so here is what I learned…

Sea cucumbers are echinoderms, so they are in the same phylum as starfish and sea urchins, and are named after their resemblance to cucumber, the fruit (surprise!). In our area most sea cucumbers live on the bottom in rocky crevices. They are benthic scavengers and are important in the nutrient cycle because they break down detritus and organic matter enough for bacteria to further the cycle. Cucumbers communicate by sending hormones through the water, and they get oxygen by “breathing” through their butt. For protection, some cucumbers can shoot sticky threads to catch or deter predators, and some species also excrete a toxin. Sea cucumbers then regenerate these threads for future protection.

There are over one thousand different species of cucumbers, and surprisingly large populations of sea cucumbers in the deep ocean. At depths deeper than about 5 miles the sea cucumber accounts for 90% of the biomass. Deep ocean cucumbers can control their buoyancy and can either swim/float or live on the floor.


Sea cucumbers are used in Chinese cuisine and folk medicine, thought to help with fighting cancer, arthritis and other diseases. The delicacy is even traded in large numbers in the black market. In 2013 a pound of sea cucumber could sell for $300, thus leading to greatly depleted cucumber populations in the Caribbean.  If you don’t have a taste for sea cucumbers, but you are interested in reading over 1,000 translated Japanese haikus, there is just the book for you! You can find Rise, Ye Sea Slugs! by Robin Gill to get your literary fill of poems about sea cucumbers and other species in the Holothuroian class.