Sea cucumbers, despite the name, are no mere vegetables.
These marine invertebrates play many roles, from bottom-dwelling filter feeders to illicit delicacies. Sea cucumbers are farmed and imported in large numbers in Asia, where their demand as food has fueled a thriving black market. (Find out why smuggling of this ocean creature may skyrocket.)
In this recently shot video, Vitaly Bazarov filmed what seems like an interminably long sea cucumber seen while he was diving in the Red Sea in Egypt. The species is likely Synapta maculata—a snake-like type of sea cucumber that is among the world’s longest, known to reach lengths of seven to 10 feet.
The tentacles at one end of its body are used for sweeping organic matter and floating debris into its mouth as it glides through the soft sediments of the ocean floor.
More than 1,200 known species of sea cucumber exist around the world. They range in appearance from squat and potato-like to hairy-looking worms. Some use tiny tube feet to crawl, while others, like Synapta, move in undulating, wavelike motions.
In addition to being caught for food, sea cucumbers are prized for medicinal purposes. One study found that a protein extracted from a sea cucumber slowed the growth of the malaria parasite. It is also said that the animals can help cure impotence and increase longevity, but there is little evidence to support these claims.
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