Friday 30 August 2013

Ocnus lacteus

Image: National Museums Northern Ireland
A central nervous system strikes out alone...

That's what I love about Sea Cucumbers. They always show us that our internal organs have the confidence and adventurous spirit to climb out of the cramped darkness of the human body and live an independent life in the great outdoors.

This particular example is called Ocnus lacteus. It looks just like a liberated piece of spinal cord topped with a loosely constructed brain, wandering around in northerly waters from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.

Image: National Museums Northern Ireland
These Sea Cucumbers are tiny, usually just 1 cm (0.2 in) and occasionally up to 4 cm (1.6 in) long. They crawl around on rocks at shallow depths using five rows of long tube-feet that line their body. At their head are 10 branching tentacles for catching food.

Isn't it wonderful to think that your death need not be the end for your organs? It can be the start of a whole new adventure!


TexWisGirl said...

eek! liberated piece of spinal cord! yuck!

Anonymous said...

perhaps instead we are the prisoners of the sea cucumber.

KJM said...

Your blog is wonderful! It makes me very happy. And you are completely hilarious :)

Lear's Fool said...

Wait a sec... could hallucigenia be an early echinoderm?

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: I think pretty much all Sea Cucumbers are yuck somewhere down the line!

@itchy8me: Ahh! Maybe we're mere vehicles and beasts of burden for the Sea Cucumbers who travel within. Something to think about!

@KJM: Thank you so much! I'm glad you're enjoying it!

@Lear's Fool: I have NO idea! Hallucigenia is completely mad. What you'd need to do is found out what echinoderms looked like back then and I don't THINK any of them looked like that. It's difficult though!

Lear's Fool said...


Yeah, everything looked weird back then, didn't they?

I just can't stop looking at hallucigenia as a sea cucumber on bottom and one of those weird tall sea urchins on top now.

Seems a lot closer than a Velvet worm or something, doesn't it (also an awesome critter, but I'm really starting to wonder!)

Joseph JG said...

Oh wow! Half Sea Cucumber half Sea Urchin. That would be extremely cool! Which raises the question of why they would ever split? That's the problem with evolution, it destroys as much as it creates.

Lear's Fool said...


They had starfish skin!

An Echinochimera! Except backwards in time because they specialized . . . some responded to predators rolling them over by getting spines on all sides, and getting more little feet and lengthening them into tube feet and eventually realized they were all sideways and became urchins. . .and some of them flattened to become sand dollars and some softened and sped up to become starfish and so on, and then some went more soft bodied to wiggle into things and became the sea cucumbers.

That might not be quite right, but it sure sounds cool, doesn't it?

Joseph JG said...

Echinochimera! I like that a lot. This is getting more compelling with every word!

You're right, it's way better than the Velvet Worm thing. I reckon Hallucigenia had far more options than that!

Lear's Fool said...

Theorize away! Set our beloved Echinochimera free!

You can take it from here into some really weird places, I'm more of an enabler. ;)

Lear's Fool said...

I've got to add . . .wow, just do a google image search on Hallucigenia now.

It cannot be unseen!

Esther said...

I dunno...this monstrosity looks more like someone's liberated digestive organs to me XD

Joseph JG said...

@Lear's Fool: Someone needs to write a book! And there must be more pictures of Hallucigenia than pretty much any other ancient weirdo. Nice! Couldn't have happened to a nicer... thing.

@Esther: I don't know why Frankenstein made his monster out of bits of people. Everything you need is in the sea!

Lear's Fool said...

Somebody should! Or at least an article! ;)

Lear's Fool said...
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Lear's Fool said...
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Lear's Fool said...

Oh myyyy.

I was . . . it's. . . WAY cooler than I ever imagined.

After finally hunting down some better educated minds, the answer appears to be 'perhaps, but that's not a good question'

The problem is likely mitochondria. Once that chimera cell happened only it and possibly a few other types of cell could compete, so the pre-Cambrian is the closest thing we've ever had to a genetic-diversity reset button.

And since it's far easier to prevent a gene from expressing than to delete it or create a new one, creatures in that era likely had a fraction of the genetic diversity than your typical arthropod FAMILY.

The answer likely is, apparently, 'they're all pretty much the same thing' from a modern diversity standpoint.

Freaky weird.

Joseph JG said...

This is fantastic! I like your article, and I love that you really put some effort into making your case. Great stuff! It's so cool that you sparked up some conversation

I don't know a great deal about the Cambrian, but I DO know it's all weird and difficult to sort out what went on. Lots of worms, I recall. Lots and lots of worms.

I'm so glad you went with it and put your idea out there. Also I'm amazed to sort of be part of it in a way. Ha!

Keep me informed of any further developments!

Lear's Fool said...

Will do! Boingboing wasn't useful, but I was hoping for some challenging questions before I went to Barry. . . and it did get a couple of neurons going!

And yeah, he really loves the idea and hit up a couple of friends, one of which was pretty excited about the other half of the idea (Apparently our fossil record of Sea Cucumbers is softer than they are!), so we may see a paper at some point.

It's not the important thing in the world, but hoo-boy did I have my neurons exercised.

Biggest lesson, it's a BIG mistake to think that cambrian-era creatures enjoyed the genetic diversity that we do. They may not have even speciated the same way. That changes the formula a whole lot.

Now, off to play 'Framsticks' until a better genetic evolution simulator appears! :)

Joseph JG said...

A paper, wow! I had no idea the Cambrian was that strange! You might have thought tax returns were enough without life finding a whole other way of being far too complicated.