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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Predator Defense Mechanisms in Shallow Water Sea Cucumbers (Holothuroidea)


The various predator defense mechanisms possessed by shallow water sea cucumbers were surveyed in twelve different species and morphs. While many defense mechanisms such as the presence of Cuverian tubules, toxic secretions, and unpalatability have been identified in holothurians, I hypothesized that the possession of these traits as well as the degree to which they are utilized varies from species to species. The observed defense mechanisms were compared against a previously-derived phylogeny of the sea cucumbers of Moorea. Furthermore, I hypothesized that while the presence of such structures is most likely a result of the species’ placement on a phylogenetic tree, the degree to which they utilize such structures and their physical behavior are influenced by their individual ecologies. The presence of a red liquid secretion was restricted to individuals of the genus Holothuria (Linnaeus 1767) however not all members of the genus exhibited this trait. With the exception of H. leucospilota, which possessed both Cuverian tubules and a red secretion, Cuverian tubules were observed in members of the genus Bohadschia (Ostergren 1896). In accordance with the hypothesis, both the phylogenetics and individual ecology appear to influence predator defense mechanisms. However, even closely related species of similar ecology may differ considerably.

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