Although they vary in color, most holothurians are black, brown, or olive green. Ranging from three cm to one m long, the largest sea cucumbers may have a diameter of 24 cm.
Holothurians generally look long and worm-like, but retain the pentaradial symmetry characteristic of the Echinodermata. Some may be spherical in body shape. The mouth and anus are located on opposite poles, and five rows of tube feet run from the mouth to the anus along the cylindrical body. Ten to 30 branching tentacles surround the mouth. The tentacles are actually part of the water vascular system.
The water vascular system, found in all echinoderms, accommodates the elongated body of the holothurians. Coelomic fluid, rather than sea water, circulates through the water vascular system. The ring canal around the gut has 1-50 polian vessicles, which may function for hydraulic regulation. Each radial canal has rows of ampullae. Podia, which are the external portion of the tube feet, may, be suckered, reduced, or lost. Podia are more randomly scattered along the body than in other echinoderms. The esophagus, foregut and radial canal of the water vascular system are supported by calcareous plates.
Letters are used to describe parts of echinoderms. The ambulacrum opposite the madreorite is section A. Moving clockwise, other parts are coded B through E. Sections C and D are termed the bivium while all the others are collectively termed the trivium. Holothurians mainly orient themselves to have the trivium on the substrate (ventral side) and the bivium facing up (dorsal side).
While support in most echinoderms is from the skeletal structure, in sea cucumbers, thick sheets of body wall muscles provide support. Microscopic ossicles (or sclerietes) are on the dermal layer and are used in taxonomic identification.
Respiratory trees, which branch out near the rectum of the animal are used for gas exchange as water is pumped through the anus. The respiratory trees are part of the organs that are expelled occasionally by the sea cucumber.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; radial symmetry
- University of Paisley, 1998. "Class Holothuroidea" (On-line). Accessed January 28, 2005 at http://www-biol.paisley.ac.uk/courses/Tatner/biomedia/units/echi6.htm.