Cotton spinner (Holothuria (Panningothuria) forskali)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



This sea cucumber has a cylindrical body of up to 25 cm and has a flattened ventral side, which bears numerous tube feet in three or four longitudinal rows. It has raised conical papillae on its dorsal surface, with about 20 stumpy, branched tentacles around its mouth. The dorsal surface is dark brown or black and the underside is usually paler, often yellow. It derives its common name from the habit of discharging a mass of sticky white threads (the Cuvarian organs or cotton glands) when roughly handled, the threads being designed to entangle and disorientate potential predators.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Recorded from rocky coasts of south-west England, south and north Wales, the Isle of Man, north west England, the coasts of Ireland, west Scotland, and the Shetland Isles.

Global distribution

Most records are from the British Isles but it ranges from the Shetland Isles south to the Azores and Morocco and into the Mediterranean as far as the Adriatic and Aegean Seas and the coast of north Africa.


The cotton spinner is mostly found in the shallow sublittoral on rocky or, more rarely, sediment substrata. It has been recorded to depths of 300 m and occasionally on shores at extreme low water among rocks and stones.

Depth range

0 - ca 300 m

Identifying features

  • Cylindrical body up to 25 cm long.
  • Raised conical protrusions (papillae) on dorsal surface.
  • Approximately 20 stumpy, branched tentacles around mouth.
  • Dorsal surface dark brown or black, undersides paler.
  • Discharges sticky white threads when threatened.

Additional information


Listed by

- none -


  1. Fish, J.D. & Fish, S., 1996. A student's guide to the seashore. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  2. Hayward, P.J. & Ryland, J.S. (ed.) 1995b. Handbook of the marine fauna of North-West Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  3. Picton, B.E., 1993. A field guide to the shallow-water echinoderms of the British Isles. London: Immel Publishing Ltd.


  1. Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, 2018. Ulster Museum Marine Surveys of Northern Ireland Coastal Waters. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. Nature Locator, 2017. Sealife Tracker. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  3. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  4. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-04-23


This review can be cited as:

Pizzolla, P.F 2007. Holothuria (Panningothuria) forskali Cotton spinner. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 23-04-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 17/01/2007