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Parastichopus californicus - California sea cucumber

Geographic range:
Alaska to Baja California

Key features:
Numerous conical, thorn-like projections cover this large sea cucumber.

Similar species:
Parastichopus parvimensis -- Warty sea cucumber

bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore
Parastichopus californicus - California sea cucumber image


Primary common name:
California sea cucumber
  ITIS code:
Synonymous name(s):
Stichopus californicus, Holothuria californica
General grouping:
Sea stars, urchins, cucumbers, sand dollars, brittle stars

Geographic Range
Range description:
Alaska to Isla Cedros, Baja California
Northern latitude extent:
  Southern latitude extent:
East longitude extent:
  West longitude extent:

Intertidal Height
Lowest intertidal height:
-0.6006006 meters OR -2 feet
  Highest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0 feet
Intertidal height notes:
Uncommon in the intertidal.

Subtidal Depth Range
Minimum depth:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Maximum depth:
90 meters OR 299.7 feet
Subtidal depth notes:
Can be very common at some sites.

bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore
Habitat notes:

Relative abundance:
Uncommon to common

Species Description
General description:
This is one of two very large sea cucumbers encountered by divers in central California. Parastichopus californicus elongate, reaching lengths up to 40 cm and a diameter of 4-5 cm. Coloring ranges from a light or golden brown to deep red. Juveniles <15 cm are mottled, with light tan patches intermixed with red and brown. Adults can also be splotchy, with color often on the numerous conical papillae and their bases.

Tube feet are located ventrally. While retaining the hallmark radial symmetry of echinoderms, there is also a derived bilaterally symmetry, with all the tube feet on the bottom. Lacking calcareous spines, ossicles or plates, cucumbers can contract when disturbed, transforming from a floppy, elongate tube into a very turgid, sub-spherical ball.
Distinctive features:
Numerous conical papillae project from the upper parts of this cucumber, much like thorns on a rose. However, these papillae are fleshy and flimsy, offering little physical protection. Numerous tube feet are located ventrally.
Body diameter: to 5 cm
Length: to 40 cm

Natural History
General natural history:
Parastichopus californicus is a very large sea cucumber, and roams the sea floor feeding on detritus. Like an earthworm, the cucumber ingests both detritus and inorganic material, digesting the organic material and passing a great deal of inorganic debris through. Often seen trailing behind these cucumbers are packets of processed inorganics.

Although formidable in appearance, the conical papillae covering the cucumber are very flimsy. When disturbed, the primary defensive mechanism is to contract the longitudinal muscle bands, causing the cucumber to contract lengthwise, and with internal fluids, become very turgid and tough.
They may be preyed upon by sea stars such as Pycnopodia helianthoides and Solaster.

Feeding behavior
Feeding behavior(s):
Deposit feeder
Feeding behavior notes:
Unlike other cucumbers that remain sedentary and filter the water column, Parastichopus californicus moves constantly, albeit slowly, dabbing the surface with its compact but highly branched oral tentacles. These sturdy tentacles have a large surface area and adhere both organic and inorganic material.
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary:
Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary:
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary:
This species is commercially targeted in parts of California. It is unknown whether a fishery management plan is in place.
Listing Status:
Monitoring Trends:
Carlton, J.T. 2007.
The Light and Smith Manual, 4th edition
Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon
University of California Press. 1001 p.

Gotshall, D. 2005. Guide to marine invertebrates : Alaska to Baja California. Sea Challengers, Monterey, CA. 117 p.

Lamb, A. and B. P. Hanby. 2005. Marine life of the Pacific Northwest. Harbour Publishing. 398 p.

Morris, R.H., D.P Abbott, and E.C. Haderlie. 1980. Intertidal Invertebrates of California. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 690 p.

Pearse, V., J. Pearse, M. Buchsbaum, and R. Buchsbaum. 1994. Living invertebrates. Boxwood Press. 848 p.

Data supplied by SIMoN Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Anthopleura xanthogrammica - Giant green anemone

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