Discovery In A Sea Cucumber’s WHAT?

Sea cucumbers are endlessly fascinating, but they’re pretty open to attack, being squishy bottom dwellers that move slowly and are blind. As such, they’ve developed some intense defenses, like the variety that can shoot poison out it’s backside to kill other fish (and which can cause vision problems in people).

Scientists recently discovered another defense mechanism some sea cucumbers have, and it’s a surprising one! Patrick Flammang of the University of Mons in Belgium has been studying a variety which, when threatened, shoots sticky threads out of their anuses to confuse and tangle predators while they make a quick getaway!

It’s pretty startling and fun to watch, but scientists are interested because it turns out these tubes, called Cuvierian tubules, are unique among sea creatures. It turns out they’re made out of a type of mutable collagenous tissue, or MCT, which is also found in starfish, sea urchins, and other parts of sea cucumbers.

However, the unique way this tissue is able to contract and then stiffen had been attracting a lot of attention from engineers, who are attempting to create “smart” materials that can adapt in the same way that MCTs do. This new tissue in Cuvierian tubules, which behaves the opposite way and expands and then stiffens, is bound to garner the same excitement, bringing scientists one step closer to material that can change actual shape and form when we require it. All that, from this small sea creature’s butt!