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Sea Cucumbers

Like a squishy, overgrown zucchini, it seeps through the sediment, slurps in rotting matter and occasionally spews out its organs. While its wormlike shape has spawned myths of giant human-eating monsters, it actually has no backbone—or brain, for that matter. Literally. It’s the silent, sluggish sea cucumber.

There are more than 1,100 species of this gelatinous echinoderm. Unlike sea stars and other spiny-skinned relatives, sea cucumbers don’t have arms or rays. They have five double rows of suctioning tube feet that run along their cylindrical bodies to help them crawl or anchor to a rock. Sedentary by nature, they may not move more than a dozen feet in one day. A target for a speeding ticket? We doubt it.

To eat, sea cucumbers spread their sticky tentacles out and wait for microscopic organisms and decaying substances to get trapped. When a tentacle is full, the sea cucumber curls it inward, licks it clean and releases it back out for seconds.

Protecting themselves is equally unusual. Some sea cucumbers produce a toxic mucus, which has been tested for its anti-inflammatory, anticancer and other medicinal properties. Others secrete a gluey substance that you’d have to remove with a razor if it got on your skin. Then there’s the “desperate times, desperate measures” tactic. To confuse or incapacitate a predator, a sea cucumber can self-eviscerate—throw out its internal organs like a bucket of trash. But don’t worry. These bizarre animals will grow new ones back.


 

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