The “headless chicken monster”, a bizarre creature just filmed off Antarctica

I saw this beast on the NBC Evening News last night, and was blown away. At first I thought it was a nudibranch, a member of a group of free-swimming gastropod molluscs (sometimes called “sea slugs”) whose colors and movements have entranced biologists for years (see here for a video). But the beast on the news is in fact a sea cucumber, or holothuroidean, a class of echinoderms whose members are sedentary and mostly sessile on the sea floor. They’re cylindrical filter feeders, and while some can occasionally leap up into the water column, by and large they just lie there like a lox and suck in water and food. (Some are also edible, though it’s one form of Chinese food that I simply cannot abide.)

This species, Enypniastes eximia, has been known since 1882, and is called the “headless chicken monster” because it looks like this:

and this:

It’s benthic, which means it lives on or near the bottom of the deep sea and thus isn’t often seen. However, as Gizmodo just reported (and the NBC News displayed), a group of Australian explorers have filmed it swimming actively in the depths off Antarctica:

A mesmerizing deep-sea dancer by the name of Enypniastes eximia is enjoying a moment in the limelight after being filmed in the Southern Ocean off East Antarctica for what officials describe as the first time in that region. The footage of the sea cucumber, which is colloquially referred to as the “headless chicken monster,” comes courtesy of new underwater camera technology being used by researchers to aid in marine conservation efforts.

Video of the holothuroid was shared Sunday by the Australian Antarctic Division, which is part of Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy. According to the division, the Enypniastes eximia had previously only been filmed in the Gulf of Mexico.

This remarkable little creature—one of hundreds of known species of sea cucumber—spends most of its time buoying along the seafloor and using its “modified tube-feet” to feed on surface sediments, according to Australia’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They can swim if they want to, and use fin-like structures to escape predators or lift off the ocean floor. Sea cucumbers are an important part of the marine ecosystem—they’re sometimes referred to as the vacuum cleaners of the sea—but some are on the brink of extinction as the result of overfishing.

I find this video absolutely amazing. Who knew that sea cucumbers could act like this?

18 Comments

  1. Charlie Jones
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I had a sea cucumber curry-type dish in the Philippines many years ago. I quite liked it, and would order it again! I have no idea how this dish was different from a Chinese sea cucumber dish. The sea cucumbers in my dish were chopped in to bite-sized pieces.

    • Posted October 22, 2018 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      The Chinese ones I’ve seen usually aren’t chopped up. They slice them down the middle and it’s served in one piece. Usually with sauce and vegetables.

      -Ryan

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Echinoderm, shmechinoderm. What does is taste like? And don’t say the c-word. 🙂

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    It’s like the creatures in Black Mesa.
    Those familiar with a certain video game will know what I mean.

  4. Posted October 22, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    .

  5. Posted October 22, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    What a little beastie, species galore!
    I like the idea of using cameras to monitor fishing. It is not dissimilar to their use for conservation, observation and protection of terrestrial animals.
    I see they are also using drones as well, watching for poachers would be a good use for them. Infra red, night vision cams on board etc., that would be a job (for me).

  6. Dave137
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Every species is fascinating, so I get annoyed when the media refers to any animal as a “monster”, simply because most people are unfamiliar with it.

    We humans are far more monstrous — in how we treat animals, the environment, and ourselves.

  7. Posted October 22, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  8. DrBrydon
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    When you get right down to it, nature is amazing.

  9. Christopher
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Stranger than fiction, once again, neither. sci-fi nor Hollywood writers could dream up something so bizarre and yet so cool. I occasionally get lucky and catch the NOAA’s Ocean Explorer live cams for some fantastic underwater exploration (right now it’s just mapping the sea floor, in the Gulf of Mexico or thereabouts, so just computer screens) and it’s mesmerizing. It’s fun to see what unexpected species pop up and to hear the scientists try to ID them on the fly.

  10. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  11. Steve Pollard
    Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating. Indeed a “remarkable little creature” (though I don’t much like the term ‘creature’). But how little/big?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted October 22, 2018 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      According to the Wiki linked in the OP that beast:

      “ranges in size from eleven to twenty-five centimeters (4.3 to 9.8 in)”

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted October 22, 2018 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        TYVM!

  12. Posted October 24, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I wonder what it does with its pigmentation.


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