HAVANA TIMES — Some weeks ago, I gave one of the animals I had in my aquarium back its freedom. I returned it to the place I had kidnapped it from in order to take pictures of it at home. How happy it made me to see it scurry away among corals and algae! Its size made keeping it in captivity for long a risk.
I looked back on my biology classes, when I studied echinoderms. The strangest of these was precisely this creature, which did not resemble the other members of the phylum. Its outward appearance, rather, was similar to a worm’s. I fell in love with sea cucumbers or Hulothoroidea ever since – and forever (without thereby looking down on sea urchins, starfish or sea palms)
The corrugated and spine-covered body of this sea cucumber struck me as strange at the time. These features, however, are the tricks nature has endowed it with, such that this charming and beautiful being with spine-like (and harmless) appendices may protect itself.
Another interesting feature of these animals is their capacity to expunge their innards when faced with danger, in order to draw the predator’s attention away from them and be able to escape unharmed.
My modest scuba-diving explorations had not exposed me to these animals of the Cuban sea. I was only able to appreciate them a year after setting up my aquarium, when the first, 5-millimeter-long, transparent sea cucumbers began to appear. It was an unforgettable experience for the animal-loving biologist in me.
The one I brought home from Baracoa beach, in the town of Santa Fe, west of Havana, was an adult, approximately 18-centimeters long. The creature was left in a kind of limbo owing to an 8-hour power cut that took place while I was away at work. They require abundant oxygen. I read that some sea cucumbers can reach lengths of up to 5 meters. They feed on detritus, algae and some forms of plankton.
They move slowly, using their locomotive appendages, and are equipped with a series of tentacles that surround the mouth. They use these to manipulate and select the food they consume.
Sea cucumbers are part of the cuisine of China and other parts of Asia. The main interest in the animal, more than its taste, is its alleged aphrodisiacal qualities.
Click on the thumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery. On your PC or laptop, you can use the directional arrows on the keyboard to move within the gallery. On cell phones use the keys on the screen.