A Distinct Saponin Profile Drives an Olfactory-Mediated Aggregation in the Aquacultivated Sea Cucumber Holothuria scabra

Emily J.S. Claereboudt*, Michel R. Claereboudt, Philippe Savarino, Guillaume Caulier, Loic Gaumez, Magali Deleu, Pascal Gerbaux, Igor Eeckhaut

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Intraspecific chemical communication between echinoderms has often been limited to prespawning aggregation. However, sea cucumber farmers have long observed year-round adult aggregation as a potential source of disease propagation and the suboptimal use of available sea pen acreage and food resources. In this study, through spatial distribution statistics, we demonstrated the significant aggregation of the aquacultivated sea cucumber Holothuria scabra both as adults in large sea-based pens and as juveniles in laboratory-based aquaria, proving that aggregation in these animals is not only observed during spawning. The role of chemical communication in aggregation was investigated using olfactory experimental assays. Our study established that the sediment that H. scabra feeds on as well as the water preconditioned by conspecifics induced positive chemotaxis in juvenile individuals. More specifically, through comparative mass spectrometry, a distinct triterpenoid saponin profile/mixture was identified to be a pheromone allowing sea cucumber intraspecific recognition and aggregation. This “attractive” profile was characterized as containing disaccharide saponins. This “attractive” aggregation-inducing saponin profile was, however, not conserved in starved individuals that were no longer attractive to other conspecifics. In summary, this study sheds new light on the pheromones in echinoderms. It highlights the complexity of the chemical signals detected by sea cucumbers and suggests a role of saponins well beyond that of a simple toxin.

Original languageEnglish
Article number184
JournalMarine Drugs
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 16 2023


  • Holothuria scabra
  • aggregation
  • behavior
  • pheromone
  • saponins
  • Animals
  • Holothuria/chemistry
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Saponins/pharmacology
  • Sea Cucumbers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics (miscellaneous)

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