What to steal from an animal? Why not another animal?
Sea cucumbers, in this case Bohadschia argus
, harbor numerous symbiotic animals, from worms to crabs to fish. Some are parasitic, others just hang around at no cost to their big buddy.
But, to simply call these animals "symbionts" is so human-centric, they may be just an assortment of undersea critters to us, but to the sea cucumber, lone wanderer of the ocean, with no home but the sand beneath its tube-feet, could these symbionts be more than hitchhikers and parasites? Could these be its only true friends and companions throughout its travels? Perhaps the sea cucumber is not merely a tube of unthinking meat, but a loving host and companion to its fellow journeyers, to its family. And, to steal away an entire family, I think, makes this more than just grooming a sea cucumber, but a true theft.
Now that my attempt to peer into the heart and mind of an invertebrate is over, here's how things went down:
After a quick snorkel, I pulled up this beauty, you can see a couple of crabs on its back here.
If you play with fire, you're gonna get burned. If you play with sea cucumbers, you're gonna get sticky. Really, really, sticky. These Cuvierian tubules are bad news.
The crabs, known as Harlequin Crabs, skit around on the hide of the sea cucumber, running to a protected side when bothered. Or, if they need a good hideout, they pop into the mouth or anus and spend a little extra-intimate time with their host. These guys don't parasitize the cuke, they're just along for the ride.
Flashier and bigger crabs are out there, but here's a look at what I got:
Next up, Melanella
, the parasitic snail. These cats have a lil' proboscis that they drill down through the sea cucumber's skin and drink up bodily fluids, luckily the snails are pretty small and don't much bother the host, as far as I can tell. Plus, what family doesn't have its more parasitic members, it's only natural.
There's a scale worm that lives with the cucumber too, like the crabs it normally leaves its host in peace. But, every once in a while, it might have a nibble. This critter will also stow away in the sea cucmbers anus, it's kind of a theme with cuke symbionts. A ginger touch is needed when handling, these scale worms are delicate and will lose pieces with very little abuse.
Now for the last, and my favorite of the sea cucumber's companions - the Pearlfish. Pearlfish take the cucumber anus trick a step up, they live inside there during the whole time they associate with their host. Some, leave the house for dinner, and then find another anus to bed down in during the day (not always the same host, Pearlfish are adulterous creatures). Others, stay in there 24/7, and take nibbles off the insides - but the sea cucumber is a resilient animal and can regenerate lost tissue with the best of them.
In order to coax the Pearlfish out, the host has to stay in a shallow dish of water, which leads to an ever diminishing supply of oxygen. I suppose you could say I was stealing their oxygen too. Anyways, once the fish starts to run out of breath it pokes its head out to see what's up.
Looks like time to find greener pastures.
They feel really slick and smooth, and are mostly a long thin tail with a head. And considering the door and home of these guys, it seems like a good body plan for all members involved.
Got a juvenile and an adult. You might not be able to tell, but trust me, these fish are not elegant swimmers, they're flounder and eventually just stop moving after a little bit. Specialization has costs I suppose.
That's the whole party, after stealing away the sea cucumber's companions, it was time release my little buddy (victim?) back to the big blue.
*Sorry if the pictures are small and sparse, out here on the island the internet has its limits.