another see-through animal (& a rather lovely image)

I saw this little critter a while back, over on Pharyngula, & put it on the list of Things To Blog About. Somehow, it took me a while to actually get onto it, but we've got there in the end 🙂

Image credit: Laurence Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/CMarZ, Census of Marine Life

I was a bit puzzled when first I saw this picture – the animal has a vague flavour of jellyfish to it, but I knew it couldn't be one due to its tubular gut. (Jellyfish and their relatives have a sac-like gastrovascular cavity, where a single opening serves as both mouth and anus). So I read on, and found out that it's actually a sea cucumber, in the same phylum as starfish, sea urchins, brittle stars, and the less-familiar feather stars and sea lilies.  It belongs to the genus Enypniastes, but has been dubbed the 'headless chicken fish' in this most entertaining blog over at Something Fishy.

I was surprised to find that Enypniastes is able to swim (although apparently this behaviour isn't all that unusual), something it does v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y using the cape of tentacles at its anterior end. It feeds on detritus in the deep ocean, and like all sea cucumbers, the contents of its digestive tract exit the body through a cloaca, a 'multipurpose' structure. In the case of the holothuroids, this multipurposing includes gas exchange, using complex 'respiratory trees branching off from the cloaca. A while back I wrote more about these structures, which may also serve as both anti-predator devices and homes for small fish…

I think perhaps I should add the see-through Enypniastes to the list of creatures for my next talk on the weird and the wonderful 🙂





5 thoughts on “another see-through animal (& a rather lovely image)”

  • But there’s something else they can do. Something reassuringly disgusting. Something totally Sea Cucumber.
    Haha, very cool.
    P.S. I have a cool creature at my place…a Pileated Woodpecker on the little suet feeder. First time I’ve seen of the big birdies try that trick.

  • Alison Campbell says:

    When I saw the ‘reassuringly disgusting’ comment on that blog I was expecting him to write about the bit where sea cucumbers can evert some of their guts as a distractor if a predator has a go at them ( I was totally not expecting bioluminescence to be the icky bit!
    In NZ we’ve got these cute little birds called stitchbirds, who among other things like a good feed of nectar. In areas like Maungatautari, where there are feeders for them, the feeders have to be shielded from the tui, who are much bigger & would push the little fellas out of the way if they could 🙂

  • Alison Campbell says:

    I submit to you that Enypniastes would benefit from the addition of googly eyes.
    Silly herr doktor – headless chickens don’t
    have eyes!
    Although I must say that Saxipendium coronatum is much improved by their presence 🙂

  • I’m reminded of what I read in the Otago Museum toilets today. Even the toilets there are informational. A poster on the way included this: “Anemones never fart. They burp instead.”

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