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Mertensiothuria leucospilota (Family Holothuriidae)

Black Holothurian


The Black Holothurian has an Indo-Pacific distribution. In Australia it ranges from Shark Bay WA, across northern shores including NT to southern Qld and Lord Howe Island (WA, NT, QLD, ISLANDS).


The Black Holothurian is a long, large, black but sometimes red-coloured, sausage-shaped holothurian. It grows to a length of 400-500 mm. The body is cylindrical to elongate in shape. Its body is soft and pliable, covered with soft bumps called papillae. Holothurians have a five-sided body plan, but are horizontal in structure not vertical as found other echinoderms. At the anterior or front end of its body are the mouth and 20 black tentacles that are used to test the environment while the anus is located at the posterior end. The Cuviers' organs are abundant and conspicuous. If the Black Holothurian is handled these organs are readily ejected. The Black Holothurian was not used as one of the edible beche-de-mer species since they are poisonous.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Black Holothurians are found on tropical intertidal sandy shores and mudflats usually concealed under rocks. They are common on reef flats.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

The Black Holothurian appears to be common across all tropical shores and appears to be not under threat from human activities.

Other Comments:

Mertensiothuria leucospilota , Brandt, 1835. The word Mertensiothuria comes from R. Mertens, a German researcher who worked in northern Australia in the 1950's and 1960's, while thuria may come from the Latin word thurus which means frankincense, a sweet smelling resin from Arabia. Leucospilota is formed from two words, leuco comes from the Greek word leucos meaning white, and spilota may come from the Old English word spillan, meaning to spill. Leucospilota refers to the spilling of the white Cuviers' organs that are extruded if the animal is handled.

Further Reading:

Cannon & Silver. (1986) Sea Cucumbers of Northern Australia. Qld. Uni. Press.

Clark, H. L. (1946) The Echinoderm Fauna of Australia: Its composition and its origin. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 566, Washington D.C.

Davey, K. (1998) A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life of Australia. p.135, New Holland Press, Sydney.


Text, map and photograph by Keith Davey.

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