Bathyal sea urchins of the Bahamas, with notes on covering behavior in deep sea echinoids (Echinodermata: Echinoidea)

In a survey of the bathyal echinoderms of the Bahama Islands region using manned submersibles, approximately 200 species of echinoderms were encountered and documented; 33 species were echinoids, most of them widespread in the general Caribbean area. Three species were found to exhibit covering behavior, the piling of debris on the upper surface of the body. Active covering is common in at least 20 species of shallow-water echinoids, but it has been reliably documented previously only once in deep-sea habitats. Images of covered deep-sea species, and other species of related interest, are provided. Some of the reasons adduced in the past for covering in shallow-water species, such as reduction of incident light intensity, physical camouflage, ballast in turbulent water, protection from desiccation, presumably do not apply in bathyal species. The main reasons for covering in deep, dark, environments are as yet unknown. Some covering behavior in the deep sea may be related to protection of the genital pores, ocular plates, or madreporite. Covering in some deep-sea species may also be merely a tactile reflex action, as some authors have suggested for shallow-water species.

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