Storm unearths burrowing sea cucumbers

The appearance of thousands of these tiny creatures on the beach after last weekend's storm prompted questions from local residents.

PENINSULA — Looking something like a cross between big wads of used bubblegum and space aliens, many thousands of small sand-dwelling sea cucumbers were churned up on the Long Beach Peninsula during this past weekend’s violent storm.

A natural part of the shoreline ecosystem, creatures formally called Leptosynapta clarki have been more frequently spotted in the past several years, particularly in Oregon.

Responding to questions about an earlier appearance in Clatsop County, Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium said she noticed them for the first time after a storm in 2014.

“They are commonly referred to as either burrowing sea cucumbers or skin-breathing sea cucumbers,” Boothe told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “They burrow into the sand, mud, or gravel and feed on the organic materials in the sediment. When cast onto the shore they resemble peanut worms and you may see them wiggling as they try to burrow back into the sand.”

Writing on the soundwaterstewards.org website, Mary Jo Adams observed, “These organisms reach a length of 5.8 inches (15 cm.). Because they have smooth pinkish skin and no tubefeet, they look very much like worms. These echinoderms give away their true identity when they extend the 12 tiny tentacles around their mouth. Like other sea cucumbers, they feed on detritus. Look for these sea cucumbers in muddy and sandy beaches, among eelgrass, in gravel, and under rocks in sandy areas. They live from the intertidal zone to a depth of 240 feet.”

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