Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Creature Feature: Sea Pig.

At one point, it was thought that everything on land had a direct counterpart under the sea. That is why certain creatures have names like seahorse, sea cow, sea lion, and so forth, even if they do not really look anything like horses, cows, or lions. Ancient naturalists thought, "eh, close enough." Hell, the same could be said of sea cucumbers, even though they are not even plants. They just look like it.


Sea cucumbers in general are pretty weird creatures. (Wow, echindoderms really do not get enough love on this blog, do they?) They resemble, umm, cucumbers that have already been partially digested, sometimes with acid paint jobs for good measure, and just stay on the ocean floor, chillin' and eating whatever floats down. If a predator comes along, they pull the ultimate nasty prank and let out some of their internal organs into the ocean. Don't worry; they grow back. 

One of the members of the sea cucumber family ups the weirdness ante by a few more dollars. Ladies and gents, meet the sea pig (genus Scotoplanes):


 Part Babe and part eldritch horror, the sea pig is the cutest of the sea cucumber bunch. It lives in large herds with 300-600 members, scrounging the deepsea abyss for anything tasty that floats down from the surface. They prefer rich, organic tissue such as fresh whale meat.

Sea pigs are the only holothurians with tube feet large enough to be called legs. The sea pig uses special water cavities inside its body to inflate and deflate sections around its 'limbs,' allowing it to walk like a little piggy in the darkness of the abyss.


Sea pigs (as well as sea cucumbers in general) have another fascinating defense mechanism: They can liquefy their inner parts to slip into the tiniest crack. Again, they come out perfectly fine afterward; sea cucumbers have barely any skeletons to speak of. We should all be ashamed for having such rigid spinal cords.

Looks like one of those splatter-pig toys...

The sea pig is currently under threat from deep-ocean trawling. Whole herds have been pulled up in fishing nets, which is unfortunately one of the few reasons we know sea pigs even exist. They are, like land pigs, a valuable source of food for deepsea predators. Better stop, guys; Cthulhu might get mad if we eat all of his ham.

Sea Pig by =TheEclecticEccentric on deviantART
(Plus, they're kinda adorable.)

Tomorrow: Speaking of weird echinoderms, this next one's a real basketcase!

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