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      Scientists have discovered the surprising way orange-footed sea cucumbers get around.

      by Doug Johnson

      It’s an odd line to hear, that the sea cucumbers “wouldn’t settle down.” But that curious observation, made in the lab of Memorial University of Newfoundland professor and biologist Annie Mercier, set the stage for the discovery of a wholly unexpected mode of locomotion in orange-footed sea cucumbers.

      These creatures, which look something like 20-centimeter-long footballs with a cluster of branch-like tentacles at one end, were long thought to live sedentary lives. However, Mercier’s new laboratory research shows that, when under duress, the orange-footed sea cucumber will release its grip from the ocean floor, pump itself full of water, and roll away. To make its great escape, the invertebrate absorbs water through both its mouth and anus.

      “The body becomes round and neutrally buoyant, which is how it can get carried out by the currents,” Mercier says.

      Dubbed active buoyancy adjustment (ABA), the reaction triggers when the sea cucumber is overcrowded or the quality of the water decreases. They will also inflate and float away when a predator appears—though in this case they can also wriggle away using their rows of tiny tube feet.

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