TESC Biota

Parastichopus californicus (Stimpson, 1857)

The California Sea Cucumber

Photo By Suzie Jacques. Collected from Boston Harbor in Puget Sound.


Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Echinodermata
Class Holothuroidea
Order Aspidochirotida
Family Stichopodidae
Genus Parastichopus
Species californicus



Alaska to California. Intertidal to 249 m.


Parastichopus californicus can grow to reach 50 cm in length, making it the largest sea cucumber in B.C. They range in color from red to dark brown with orange-colored "fleshy pointed projections" (Kozloff, 2001) covering their dorsal side. A ring of twenty branch-like feeding tentacles surround the mouth located at the anterior end of the organism. On its ventral surface, Parastichopus californicus has hydraulically-powered tube feet that assist in locomotion.


Parastichopus californicus can be confused with P. leukothele, but P. Leukothele has prominent brown patches along its body and its papillae are white. It also lives at much greater depths than P. californicus.


Parastichopus californicus is commonly found in mud and organic sediment, or attached to floating pillars. Although it is uncommon to find any specimens on the Evergreen Beach, they can be found occaisonally and are often sighted along the docks at Boston Harbor. They prefer quieter waters, but can also be found in high-energy environments.


Parastichopus californicus, like most holothuroideans, feeds as it travels by ingesting sand from the ocean floor and extracting all the valuable organic matter. They can travel up to 3.9 m a day. From September to early March Parastichopus californicus goes through a dormant period where it ceases feeding all together. Most specimens collected during this time period do not have internal organs. Some research suggests they resorb the organs during this dormant period and then regenerate them in the winter (Fankboner & Cameron, 1985 as cited by Lambert, 1997). They then migrate to shallow water from late April to August (depending upon location) to spawn. Fertilization occurs in open waters and the larvae are free swimming for 35-52 days before settling to the bottom.


Parastichopus californicus has few known predators. It has been shown to react strongly when placed in contact with Pycnopodia helianthoides by rearing up and flexing itself backwards to escape the sea star's grasp. It is also currently the only sea cucumber being harvested commercially for meat in B.C., Washington and Alaska.


When threatened, Parastichopus californicus will eject its internal organs to distract any potential predators. Also, unique to this species, is the ability to "melt" and become completely limp when removed from water, even going so far as disintegrating entirely. If this process is not too far underway the organism can reverse it and recover completely.


Video of Escape Response



Kozloff, E. (2001). Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast. Washington: University of Washington Press.

Lambert, B. (1997). Sea Cucumbers of British Columbia, Southeast Alaska and Puget Sound. Vancouver: UBC Press.


Web Site Created by Suzie Jacques