Parastichopus parvimensis

Geographic Range

Warty sea cucumbers are found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean along the west coast of North America from Monterey Bay, California to Baja California, Mexico. They are most abundant south of Point Conception, California. (Hamel and Mercier, 2008)


This species is found in rocky and sandy bottom environments beyond the low intertidal zone (down to 30 m), but typically the largest specimens are found in the subtidal zone on sandy bottoms and rock surfaces where there is abundant food (mainly particulate material from under the kelp canopy and granular sediments). (Hamel and Mercier, 2008)

  • Range depth
    0 to 30 m
    0.00 to 98.43 ft

Physical Description

Warty sea cucumbers are brown or orange and have black-tipped papillae on their ventral surface (giving them their common name). The mouth and anus are on opposite ends of their cylindrical bodies. Warty sea cucumbers can grow to a maximum length of 30-40 cm, but their soft body walls and lack of a skeleton enable these animals to expand and contract significantly. There is no external sexual dimorphism in this species. Average body weight is difficult to estimate because sea cucumbers have the ability to take on sea water as well as eviscerate some of their internal organs periodically during the year, thereby dramatically increasing or decreasing their masses. Generally speaking, their mass is greatest in the winter months due to increased feeding and gonad maturation. They possess tube feet which help them to gather food as well as move across the ocean floor. ("Sea Cucumbers", 2012; "Warty Sea Cucumber", 2012; Chavez, 2011; Fajardo León, et al., 2008; Hamel and Mercier, 2008; Rogers-Bennett and Ono, 2007)

Water is pumped in and out of sea cucumber's anus into two specialized breathing apparati known as respiratory trees or water lungs. The base of each tree is connected to the cloaca and oxygenated water is drawn in through this sphincter, with deoxygenated water then being expelled. ("Parastichopus parvimensis - Warty sea cucumber", 2012)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    40 (high) cm
    15.75 (high) in


After fertilization, the embryo hatches into a free-swimming gastrula within 64 hours. By approximately 14 days post-fertiliztion, the gastrula develops into an auricularia larvae, which ingests phytoplankton. The final larval stage of this sea cucumber is the doliolaria (barrel shaped, non-feeding larvae with ciliary band/s). After approximately 27 days these doliolaria larvae settle onto rocks and algae, metamorphosing into pentacula juveniles. Juveniles grow to 3.5 cm in length within one year and are strictly found under rocks, never on them. (Hamel and Mercier, 2008; "Doliolaria larva (Holothuroidea)", 2009; Rogers-Bennett and Ono, 2007)


Five stages of gonad development have been identified in this species: Undifferentiated/in repose, gametogenesis, ripe, spawing and post-spawning (similar to other holothurian species). All sea cucumbers are broadcast spawners, with fertilization occurring in the water column. While they are releasing their gametes, sea cucumbers lift the fronts of their bodies, forming an “s-shape”. This position is thought to increase fertilization efficiency. (Fajardo León, et al., 2008; Hamel and Mercier, 2008; Rogers-Bennett and Ono, 2007)

Size at sexual maturity of Warty sea cucumbers has been recorded at anywhere between 40 g to 120 g. Gonads begin developing each year around January. Breeding season is typically from May to June and is likely triggered by changes in water temperature or phytoplankton blooms. Gonads are reabsorbed beginning in September. (Chavez, 2011; Fajardo León, et al., 2008; Hamel and Mercier, 2008; Rogers-Bennett and Ono, 2007)

  • Breeding interval
    Warty sea cucumbers breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season is typically in the early summer (May/June). Near Santa Catalina Island, spawning occurs in May and June but in Baja, California spawning can begin as early as February.

Because warty sea cucumbers broadcast spawn and larvae develop independently in the water column as plankton, there is no parental investment. ("Sea Cucumbers", 2012)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


There is currently no published information available regarding the lifespan of this species. In general, sea cucumber species are estimated to have a lifespan of 5-10 years in the wild. ("Sea Cucumbers", 2012)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 to 10 years


From August through November, warty sea cucumbers migrate to deeper waters, nearly disappearing from the shallow waters near Southern California. (Hamel and Mercier, 2008)

Warty sea cucumbers exhibit an annual evisceration cycle to expel sediment built up in their systems from feeding on detritus. Over a four week period, typically sometime between August and October, these animals expel their viscera and gonads then begin to regenerate them for the next year. (Fajardo León, et al., 2008)

Home Range

Sea cucumbers travel across the sea floor, ingesting sediment. They do not appear to maintain a home range beyond remaining in areas where food is available. Sea cucumbers neither establish nor defend territories. (Hamel and Mercier, 2008)

Communication and Perception

Sea cucumbers are solitary and do not generally communicate with conspecifics, although they can detect chemicals released during spawning, synchronizing gamete release between animals within the same general area. The podia (tube feet) covering the ventral surface perceive sediment texture as the animal crawls over surfaces. (Hamel and Mercier, 2008)

Food Habits

Warty sea cucumbers are detritivores and use oral tentacles and tube feet covered with adhesive mucus to collect debris and sediment. This is passed to the mouth, located within the center of the tentacles, where it is swallowed. After digestion, the remaining non-organic material is eliminated in long fecal castings. ("Sea Cucumbers", 2012; Fajardo León, et al., 2008)


Young Warty sea cucumbers and larvae are vulnerable to predation by fish and other animals; it is thought that this is why juveniles are typically only found under rocks. It is possible for this sea cucumber species to purposefully and forcefully eviscerate itself to distract predators, regenerating the lost organs later. ("Sea Cucumbers", 2012; "Warty Sea Cucumber", 2012)

Humans consume a variety of sea cucumber species, including Warty sea cucumbers. There is a great demand, particularly in Asian countries, for this species not only as food but for folk medicine applications. It is considered to be widely overfished. This species is also prey for a number of fish, gastropods and crustaceans, as well as sea stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides). ("Parastichopus parvimensis - Warty sea cucumber", 2012; Chavez, 2011)

Ecosystem Roles

Warty sea cucumbers recycle nutrients and clean the benthic environment when they collect and eat detritus. They rework benthic sediments, oxygenating the top layers and making them more suitable for burrowing infauna. Their feeding activity prevents the buildup of organic decaying material and possibly pathogenic organisms in the sediment environment. Additionally, their eggs, larvae, and juveniles provide food for filter feeders and other species of echinoderms, fish, molluscs, and crustaceans. This species is host to a commensal polynoid scaleworm (Arctonoe pulchra), which may be found living between the sea cucumber's podia, as well as unicellular organisms (Lichnophora macfarlandi and Boveria subcylindrica) that live in its respiratory tree. ("Parastichopus parvimensis - Warty sea cucumber", 2012; Bruckner, et al., 2003; Carefoot, 2010; Chavez, 2011)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Red commensal scaleworm (Arctonoe pulchra)
  • Lichnophora macfarlandi (Order Licnophorida, Phylum Ciliophora)
  • Boveria subcylindrica (Order Thigmotrichida, Phylum Ciliophora)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Warty sea cucumbers are almost exclusively harvested by divers and shipped to Asian markets in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea; they are sold for consumption and folk medicine uses. Their dried body walls are known as "bêche-de-mer." While there is limited information on their basic biology and stock abundance on the west coast of North America, there is evidence showing that these organisms are overfished. (Bruckner, et al., 2003; Chavez, 2011; Rogers-Bennett and Ono, 2007)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Warty sea cucumbers on humans.

Conservation Status

Although there are indications that this species is over-exploited, it has no special conservation status at the present time. (Chavez, 2011; IUCN, 2012)

Other Comments

Although they are invertebrates, Warty sea cucumbers have an internal calcareous ring, as do most sea cucumber species. This ring is made up of a series of plates joined together around the esophagus. The shapes of these plates vary from species to species and can be used in classification. It is also the only part of a sea cucumber to fossilize. ("Parastichopus parvimensis - Warty sea cucumber", 2012)


Allison Knight (author), San Diego Mesa College, Paul Detwiler (editor), San Diego Mesa College, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map


Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


active at dawn and dusk


an animal that mainly eats decomposed plants and/or animals


particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

intertidal or littoral

the area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


National Environment Research Council. 2009. "Doliolaria larva (Holothuroidea)" (On-line). Zooplankton Identification Manual for the North European Seas. Accessed August 20, 2012 at

2012. "Parastichopus parvimensis - Warty sea cucumber" (On-line). Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network. Accessed August 20, 2012 at

2012. "Sea Cucumbers" (On-line). National Geographhic. Accessed April 29, 2012 at

2012. "Warty Sea Cucumber" (On-line). Monterey Bay Aquarium. Accessed April 29, 2012 at Lst7QZhQBJCERG/gw==.

Bruckner, A., K. Johnson, J. Field. 2003. Conservation strategies for sea cucumbers: Can a CITES Appendix II listing promote sustainable international trade?. SPC Beche-de-mer Information 24 Bulletin, #18: 24-33. Accessed May 25, 2012 at

Carefoot, T. 2010. "Learn about Sandworms & Relatives" (On-line). A Snail's Odyssey: A journey through the research done on west coast marine invertebrates. Accessed May 25, 2012 at

Chavez, E. 2011. Stock Assessment of the Warty Sea Cucumber Fishery (Parastichopus parviemnsis) of NW Baja California. CalCOFI Rep., 52: 136-147. Accessed April 29, 2012 at

Fajardo León, M., M. Suarez Higuera, A. del Valle Manriquez, A. Hernandez Lopez. 2008. Biología reproductiva del pepino de mar Parastichopus parvimensis (Echinodermata: Holothuroidea) de Isla Natividad y Bahía Tortugas, Baja California Sur,México. Ciencias Marinas, 34/002: 165-177. Accessed April 29, 2012 at

Hamel, J., A. Mercier. 2008. Population status, fisheries and trade of sea cucumbers in temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere. Pp. 257-291 in V Toral-Granada, A Lovatelli, M Vasconcellos, eds. Sea Cucumbers, a global review of fisheries and trade., Vol. 516. 2008: FAO. Accessed August 20, 2012 at

Herrero-Perezrul, M. 1999. Reproduction and growth of Isostichopus fuscus (Echinodermata: Holothuroidea) in the southern Gulf of California, Mexico. Marine Biology, 135: 521-532. Accessed April 29, 2012 at and growth of Isostichopus fuscus (Echinodermata Holothuroidea) in the southern Gulf of California, Mexico.pdf.

IUCN, 2012. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1" (On-line). Accessed August 25, 2012 at

Rogers-Bennett, L., D. Ono. 2007. "Status of the Fisheries Report" (On-line). California Department of Fish and Game. Accessed April 29, 2012 at