Donkey Dung Sea Cucumber, Holothuria mexicana
The donkey dung sea cucumber (Holothuria mexicana) can be found in areas of the Caribbean, with a range that stretches into southern waters of Brazil. It prefers to reside in shallow waters between depths of about seven feet and sixty-six feet, in clear sandy areas located in mangroves, seagrass beds, and offshore reefs. This species can reach an average length of twenty inches. It dorsal skin is brown to gray in color, while the underbelly is typically reddish orange in color with tube feet covering the surface.
The donkey dung sea cucumber can spawn throughout the year, with peak spawning periods occurring at different times depending upon the area of its range. It is thought that these periods correlate with weather patterns. In Panama, spawning occurs between the months of May and July while in Florida, spawning occurs between August and September. Females release eggs into the water and males fertilize them. The eggs develop into larvae after a period of sixty-four hours. Sexual maturity is reached when individuals reach a body length between five and eight inches and a weight of about five ounces.
Like other sea cucumbers, the donkey dung sea cucumber consumes sediment found on the sea floor. The sediment contains waste materials, algae, and tiny organisms. Metals, such as nickel, zinc, lead, and copper, sometimes appear within the sediment as well. These metals build up within the skin of the sea cucumber in a process known as bioaccumulation. By studying this, experts can determine whether the area in which they were found holds these and other metals. It often contracts many types of parasites like protozoans, bacteria, and metazoans, which actually consume the tissue of the sea cucumber.
Like other species of sea cucumber, the donkey dung sea cucumber is caught for human consumption. Divers harvest these species in order to export them to China, where they are valued as a healthy source of nutrients. Fisheries are located in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Panama. However, in Panama, the donkey dung sea cucumber was only fished as a last resort and is now protected by law. Because sea cucumbers are so easy to harvest and are sold for a high price, population numbers of many species are dwindling.