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Thyonella gemmata (Pourtalès, 1851)
Family: Cucumariidae
Common names: Striped Sea Cucumber,  more...
Synonyms: Colochirus gemmatus Pourtalès, 1851,  more...
Thyonella gemmata image
Thyonella gemmata  

Species Description: The body of the striped sea cucumber, Thyonella gemmata, tapers toward a bluntly rounded mouth and narrows more severely toward the stiff anal cone (Hendler et al. 1995). The skin is rigid and rough, due to a thick body wall and dense layer of ossicles. The midbody exhibits conical tube feet, arranged in two distinct rows along the radii and scattered over the interradial areas, with the largest and most numerous tube feet occurring on the ventral surface. Conical papillae are found near the ends of the body. Ten bushy tentacles surround the mouth, the two smallest of which are on the ventral surface. Five calcareous plates surround the anus, one at the end of each radius. Five enlarged conical papillae are found anterior to each plate.

The body wall ossicles consist of buttons, baskets, rods and perforated plates (Hendler et al. 1995). The knobbed buttons are irregular and vary in length. The baskets are tiny, shallow, and bear seven to nine marginal teeth. Tube feet are adorned with large perforated plates and rods. Large perforated plates are also found on both the anterior and posterior portion of the body, but are generally replaced with buttons and baskets along the middle portion.

Body coloration is variable, from mottled gray, brown or olive green to uniform tan or black (Hendler et al. 1995). A striped appearance is usually visible from the lighter radial and darker interradial areas. In live specimens, the tips of the tube feet may appear red because of hemoglobin contained in the cells of the water vascular system.

Habitat & Regional Occurrence: T. gemmata inhabits burrows in muddy or sandy sediments, often in beds of the seagrasses Halodule or Thalassia (Hendler et al. 1995). The burrows are U-shaped with two circular openings about 3-8 cm apart, and freshly excavated individuals retain the characteristic shape of their burrows (Ruppert & Fox 1988). Unlike other holothurians in and around the IRL, this species is rarely discovered beneath rocks. Juveniles have been collected from macroalgae in Conch Key, Florida (Hendler et al. 1995).

T. gemmata is usually found at the low tide mark to 6 m, although it was been documented from sediments dredged as deep as 20 m near Daytona Beach, Florida (Hendler et al. 1995).

The range of T. gemmata extends from New England to Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico coastline to Texas, Cuba and the Yucatán Peninsula.

Indian River Lagoon Distribution: The distribution of T. gemmata within the IRL remains undocumented. However, this common sea cucumber is likely found throughout the lagoon in sheltered seagrass beds and other areas characterized by soft, muddy sands.

Size: T. gemmata is a medium-sized species, approximately 15-25 cm long (Ruppert & Fox 1988, Hendler et al. 1995).

Abundance: T. gemmata is one of the most abundant sea cucumbers in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, occasionally washing ashore in large numbers after turbulent storms (Hendler et al. 1995).

Trophic Mode: The striped sea cucumber is primarily a suspension feeder, catching food from the overlying water column. However, it does deposit feed on organic material in the sediments. The deposit feeding behavior of this and other sea cucumber species has indicated the ingestion of small plastic pieces broken down in the sediment from marine debris (Graham & Thompson 2009).

Graham ER & JT Thompson. 2009. Deposit- and suspension-feeding sea cucumbers (Echinodermata) ingest plastic fragments. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 368: 22-29.

Hendler G, Miller JE, Pawson DL & PM Kier. 1995. Sea stars, sea urchins, and allies: echinoderms of Florida and the Caribbean. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C. 390 pp.

Ruppert EE & RS Fox. 1988. Seashore animals of the Southeast: a guide to common shallow-water invertebrates of the southeastern Atlantic coast. University of South Carolina Press. 429 pp.

Aboral: In a direction away from the mouth; the part of the body opposite the mouth.

Anal Cone: In crinoids and echinoids, a fleshy projection bearing the anus at its apex; also known as an anal tube.

Apical System: In echinoids, a ring of specialized skeletal plates, including the genital plates and ocular plates; usually located on the highest point of the test.

Arm: In asteroids, crinoids, and ophiuroids, a movable, jointed ambulacral projection, distal to the disk or calyx that carries a radial branch of the water vascular system and the nervous system; sometimes called a ray.

Basket: One of several types of microscopic skeletal ossicles in holothuroids; minute cup-shaped ossicle, usually with four projections.

Button: One of several types of microscopic skeletal ossicles in holothuroids; minute ossicle with four perforations; may be smooth or knobbed.

Disk: The round or pentagonal central body region of ophiuroids and asteroids; see also Terminal Disk.

Distal: In a direction away from the center of the body; for example, toward the tip of the arm in asteroids or the tip of a spine in echinoids.

Dorsal: In echinoderms, this term is variously applied; in asteroids, ophiuroids and echinoids it usually refers to the surface of the body that is opposite the mouth, the surface that is uppermost; in holothuroids, with mouth and anus opposite ends of the cylindrical body, the uppermost surface is considered dorsal; in crinoids, the surface opposite the mouth in considered dorsal by convention, even though it is functionally the ventral (lower) side.

Echinulate: Something spiny or prickly, usually referring to the microscopic texture of a skeletal element such as a spine.

Hermaphrodism: A condition in organisms whereby one individual possesses both functional male and female reproductive structures; hermaphroditic individuals may express both sexes simultaneously, alternately, or sequentially.

Interambulacral Area: An oral or aboral section of the body lying between two ambulacra; in interradius; also known as an interambulacrum.

Interradial: Referring to interambulacral areas of the body; interradius and interradii also commonly used.

Oral: In a direction toward the mouth; a part of the body on the same surface as the mouth.

Oral Papillae: In ophiuroids, small plates at the edge of the mouth, attached to the edges of the jaw plate and/or to the aboral shield; may be variously shaped, from spine-like to scale-like.

Papillae: In holothuroids, specialized dorsal tube feet that lack a suckered tip; in ophiuroids, certain skeletal elements of the jaws or disk.

Papillate: Covered with papillae.

Papillose: Covered with papillae.

Pedicellariae: Small stalked or unstalked pincer-like organs on the body of asteroids and echinoids, used for defense and grooming.

Peltate: Shield-shaped; used to describe the tentacles of some holothuroids.

Perforated Plate: One of several types of microscopic skeletal ossicles in holothuroids; sieve-like and widespread; may also be found in other echinoderm classes, especially in juvenile individuals.

Periproct: In echinoids, a flexible region surrounding the anus, which consists of a membrane containing embedded plates and often bearing spines and pedicellariae.

Plates: One of several types of skeletal elements in echinoderms; tabular structures with a characteristic shape and a fixed position.

Primary Plates: The first-formed plates on the dorsal side of the disk; in ophiuroids, these are the central and five radial plates; in adults, they may form a rosette of scales near the center of the disk, or they may be separated by numerous secondarily developed scales.

Radial: In a direction toward the central axis of an arm or ambulacrum; a part of the body near an arm or ambulacrum.

Radial Shields: Pairs of plates on the dorsal surface of the ophiuroid disk, which lie near the base of each arm; usually relatively large and conspicuous, but may be hidden by granules or superficial scales.

Rods: One of several types of microscopic skeletal ossicles in holothuroids; commonly found as supporting structures in tentacles or tube feet.

Scales: One of several types of skeletal elements in echinoderms; flat, thin structures that are overlapping, tessellate, or haphazardly arrayed.

Sole: In some holothuroids, the flattened ventral part of the body, either covered with or surrounded by tube feet.

Spines: One of several skeletal elements in echinoderms; movable, articulating structures that are long, slender and attenuated.

Teeth: In ophiuroids, small plates or spines attached to the dental plate on the inner edge of the jaw, a series of them extending into the mouth; in echinoids, the five hard, sharp, and movable ossicles incorporated in Aristotle’s lantern; the term also refers to five movable ossicles that surround the anus of some holothuroids.

Tentacle Scales: Small, movable spines or scales, associated with ophiuroid tube feet, which are attached to the ventral arm plate and/or lateral arm plate; may cover the tentacle pores and protect the retracted tube feet.

Tentacles: In holothuroids, feeding structures in the form of highly modified tube feet arranged in a ring around the mouth.

Terminal Disk: Round portion on the end of the tube foot in many echinoderms; usually employed for attachment to substrates.

Tube Feet: Fluid-filled, fingerlike extensions of the water vascular system that protrude through the openings in the skeleton or between skeletal elements; muscles and nerves in the shaft of the tube feet control their movements; glands, and sometimes a muscular sucker, at the tip function in adhesion; specialized tube feet are used for locomotion, feeding, burrowing, respiration, and a combination of functions.

Ventral: In echinoderms, this term is variously applied; in asteroids, echinoids and ophiuroids, it is the surface of the body that carries the mouth; this surface is in contact with the substrate; in holothuroids, with mouth and anus at opposite ends of a cylindrical body, the ventral surface is lowermost, in contact with the substrate; in crinoids, the ventral surface carries the mouth and is functionally the uppermost surface.