Significance to humans

Holothuroids are a food item in several Asian and Pacific Island countries. The widespread use of holothuroids as food and medicine in Asia extends to at least the late sixteenth century, when detailed Chinese and European accounts of commerce first began mentioning trade in beche-de-mer. This long-term, domestic familiarity with holothuroids in the region is reflected in a small role for the animal in northern Asian culture as an object of poetry and popular cartoons. Several thousand individuals of colorful tropical species are harvested annually as part of the worldwide marine aquarium trade. Holothuroids are of minor medical significance because the potent dermal toxins of some species cause severe contact dermatitis in some people. These same toxins are of commercial interest because of their pharmacological properties. Compounds extracted from holothuroids exhibit antimicrobial, anticoagulating, tumor-inhibiting, and antiinflammatory activity. Other compounds are potent respiratory toxins in vertebrates. This feature is used by fishers in the Pacific Islands, who use abraded or chopped holothuroids to poison fishes and force octopuses from their lairs. The sticky cuvierian tubules also are spread over coral cuts to stem bleeding.

Emily Damstra

1. Candy cane sea cucumber (Thelenota rubralineata); 2. Slipper sea cucumber (Psolus chitinoides); 3. Giant medusan worm (Synapta maculata); 4. Sea pig (Scotoplanes globosa); 5. Flask-shaped sea cucumber (Rhopalodina lageniformis). (Illustration by Emily Damstra)

Pelagic Sea Cucumber

1. Pelagic sea cucumber (Pelagothuria natatrix); 2. Sea apple (Pseudocolochirus violaceus); 3. Hydrothermal vent sea cucumber (Chiridota hy-drothermica); 4. Tiger's tail sea cucumber (Holothuria [Thymiosycia] thomasi); 5. Rat-tailed sea cucumber (Molpadia oolitica). (Illustration by Emily Damstra)

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