Sea pig Facts: These Scavengers Breathe Through Their Butt

Get ready to meet the sea pig – a bizarre but real creature that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book rather than the ocean depths. These plump, snout-like creatures are a mystery to scientists and continue to fascinate marine enthusiasts. In this article, we’ll uncover some surprising facts about them. Let’s get ready!

Sea pig
Scientific name: Scotoplanes globosa
Phylum: Echinodermata
Class: Holothuroidea
Order: Elasipodida
Family: Elpidiidae
Genus: Scotoplanes

1. Sea Pigs Are Sea Cucumber species

The sea pig is a subspecies of the well-known sea cucumber. If you look at the picture of this species, you’ll know why they are called sea pigs.

They exhibit anatomical adaptations based on the depths of their aquatic habitat. Since the animals dwell in the deepest and darkest place of the ocean, their skin lacks color and appears translucent.

Their gelatinous, oval-shaped bodies typically measure around 4 inches (10 cm) in length but can grow to be as long as 6 inches (15 cm).

These pigs have about 5 – 7 pairs of “feet”, with the larger tube feet employed for movement. These tube feet can inflate or deflate with water, enabling the sea pigs to move.

Their plump, pink appearance and leg-like appendages are the reason why these creatures are called like that.

Furthermore, sea pigs feature 3 pairs of appendages on their dorsal side, two of which are long and whip-like while the third is shorter. These species don’t have eyes, they see by using the projections atop their head. These are not antennas, they are legs that assist the pig in detecting the scent of food.

A ring of feeding tentacles surrounds their mouths, allowing them to burrow into the mud and collect food.

Sea cucumbers belong to the echinoderm group which also comprises starfish and sea urchins. These creatures have unique anatomy. They, for instance, can breathe through their butts! The others even utilize their anus as an additional mouth.

2. They can’t leave their natural habitat

Sea pigs live in the deepest and darkest part of the ocean all over the world. They even make up more than 95% of the total weight of deep-sea animals in certain areas. These species are restricted to living in the deep-sea mud on the sea floor, up to 4 miles beneath the water’s surface.

A cute sea pig on the seafloor

Unlike other species, sea pigs respire through their anus rather than their lungs. To achieve this, they stretch and contract their bodies to push water through their cloacae, collecting oxygen from it via a lung-like structure known as the respiratory tree. This unique adaptation prevents them from floating toward the water’s surface.

When hauled up from 4,000 to 16,000 feet below the surface, their water-filled, frail bodies virtually dissolve into a mound of fake Jell-O. As a result, it’s very hard for you to ever encounter a sea pig.

3. They don’t Swim

Sea pigs don’t swim like most aquatic animals do, at least not in a classic way. Rather, they remain suspended above the ocean floor, navigated and grounded by suckers located on the underside of their tube-shaped feet.

When they do move, their chubby, oval bodies look like a pig’s movements, which is why they have acquired their popular common name.



A Chinese giant salamander is eating a amphibian species

4. They’re Scavengers

Sea pigs are scavengers that prefer an effortless meal, one that they don’t have to chase after. Similar to vultures, these creatures scour amidst the mud and sludge on the seabed for corpses or decaying material and consume them.

To locate food, these species use the feet on their head and feed on the food by their mouth tentacles. Their favorite food is whale carcasses.

Hundreds of Scotoplanes are eating the corpse/Cre: MBARI

Sea pigs tend to congregate where food resources are plentiful. As a result, hundreds of them will gather at a dead whale carcass on the bottom of the ocean to feast. They will typically face the prevailing current. According to the Echinoblog, they do this to detect decaying matter and select the optimum feeding locations.

Due to this scavenging behavior, sea pigs are very important for the ecosystem. They act as efficient cleaners by removing debris from an otherwise inaccessible section of the ocean.

Without sea pigs consuming the remains of deceased animals on the sea floor, the ocean would be filled with decomposing carcasses that would pose a significant health risk to the fish and other creatures inhabiting it.

5. They are Poisonous

Sea pigs have few predators, with parasites being their primary threat. That’s why there’re many of them in the ocean. Despite being consumed by some fish and animals, they are not a favored food. These pigs have disgusting taste and poisonous skin. The skin of the sea pig contains holothurins, toxic chemicals used as a defense mechanism by various sea cucumber species.

As with most sea cucumber species, sea pigs pose little danger to humans. In theory, touching a sea pig may expose them to their deadly chemicals. However, this is unlikely to occur unless a diver ventured to the seabed and came into contact with them.

6. They are baby sisters

Sea pigs are host to numerous parasites, some of which are detrimental to their health, such as tiny snails and crustaceans that feed on their bodies from the inside. However, other parasites seek only temporary residence and assistance.

One of their common temporary parasites is the baby king crab. These vulnerable species need protection and they choose the sea pigs. They often attach themselves to the underside of pigs and stay there as they mature.

These crabs are less likely to be targeted by predators by clinging to the pigs. They will have more chances to survive until they are able to fend for themselves. These crabs do not harm sea pigs, and the pigs themselves seem to be oblivious to their presence.

Interestingly, a study conducted in 2011 revealed that almost a quarter of the 2,600 sea cucumbers examined carried juvenile crabs.

Sea pigs are also known to oxygenate deep-sea mud, making them more hospitable for other marine creatures.

7. They are still a mystery

Despite being first identified by the Swedish zoologist Hjalmar Theel in 1882, these species remain a mystery. This is due to the challenges associated with studying them in their habitat.

Scientists are still intrigued by their unusual reproduction mechanism. In contrast to a standard configuration, the female has a single ovary while the male has only one testis. These, like all sea cucumbers, deposit eggs. This replication procedure is very typical, with nothing out of the ordinary about it.

The eggs hatch into baby sea pigs, who then dwell in the ocean’s depths. Nevertheless, the lifespan of these creatures remains unknown.



I'm so fascinated about animals and want to share with you these amazing, interesting, amusing and beautiful creatures. Hope you enjoy it!

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