The headless chicken monster sea cucumber is something of a word salad when it comes to marine animals. Its nickname, beloved among remote-operated vehicle (ROV) pilots, is a nod to its resemblance to decapitated poultry, but it’s more officially known as Enypniastes eximia.
One of these headless chickens was recently spotted moving through the water column by scientists from Nautilus Live. They were observing through the ROV Hercules’ Zeus camera while diving at the Loudoun Seamount in the North Pacific Ocean at a depth of over 2,000 meters (6,560 feet).
“I’m like trippin’ at the way it swims,” one researcher can be heard saying on the video captured by E/V Nautilus and trippin’ is about right. These sea cucumbers demonstrate a unique set of webbed swimming fin structures which enable them to take to the "air" like a bit of a confused mess, really. But an impressive mess at that.
Headless chicken monsters, like most sea cucumbers, spend the majority of their time on the seabed where they hoover up detritus from the sands. They can however take to the air when under threat from predators, often expelling feces as they go to reduce the weight they’re carrying through the water.
They’ll also swim as a means of finding fresh feeding grounds and, as Nautilus Live puts it, to “delight science teams”.
As the only species in the Enypniastes genus, E. eximia goes by many nicknames including the “swimming sea cucumber” and the “pink see-through fantasia”. This particular specimen exhibits a rather impressive maroon coloration that one of the commentating scientists says will be “my new color for the year”.
The headless chicken monster was discovered as part of the E/V Nautilus Expedition to Luʻuaeaahikiikekumu, which focuses on the ancient seamounts of Liliʻuokalani Ridge. Its findings built upon the 2021 Luʻuaeaahikiikalipolipo expedition, which mapped the seamounts for the first time. They hope their visual exploration of the seamount chain will reveal new insights into what they describe as “a puzzling split in the seamount trail”.
Until then, it seems the team are pretty content with their headless chicken monster discovery.
“This dark-colored sea cucumber is just one of the amazing creatures we’ve witnessed on expedition Luʻuaeaahikiikekumu while exploring the Liliʻuokalani Ridge Seamounts,” the team said.
Beyond delighting marine scientists, sea cucumbers carry out a vital ecological service out in the oceans. Research has estimated these “walking colons” poop out roughly five Eiffel Towers’ worth of excrement per coral reef annually.
Their colons are also prime real estate for certain species like the pearlfish, which will endure the torrent of feces in return for safe passage in a back passage. Not a bad repertoire of talents for animals that are essentially living Water Wigglies.