Creeping Crinoids
Sea lilies crawl to escape predators
October 19, 2005 - Page updated: June 22, 2011

1 minute 30 Second video (no sound)
After the movie starts...Double Clicking on the video will open to full screen
and pressing the ESC Key will return to normal viewing.
If the above video is no longer on-line click here to view archived version

Recording (no sound) of rapid crawling movement by a specimen of
Neocrinus decorus on a ~5 minute video sequence.
The distance between the right-most and left-most red laser dots is 20 cm

Videos taken from a submersible research vessel at a depth of 430 meters
(1410 feet) near Grand Bahama Island reveal that some sea lilies can creep
along the ocean floor, apparently to escape from sea urchins that prey upon
them. The video and related studies help paint a bigger picture of the evolution
and ecology of these deep-sea creatures and their predators.

Web Publication: Creeping Crinoids! Sea Lilies Crawl to Escape Predators
Author: University of Michigan - Published: Oct. 17, 2005  Click Here
10 Second "original" video (With Sound): Click Here
     If the Web Publication (above) is no longer on-line ...
     Click Here to view the archived original article (printable format)

Paleo textbooks may need some serious revision!
John McLeod October 19, 2005

Page updated with a High Quality video & re-posted on June 22, 2011
Click Here to review the June 22, 2011 post

added June 24, 2011
 "Stalked Crinoid Locomotion and Its Ecological and Evolutionary Implications"
Tomasz K. Baumiller and Charles G. Messing  Click Here  or PDF (12 MB )  Click Here
Published: 2007
     If the referenced website or PDF is no longer on line...
     Click Here to view the archived copy

Crawling Crinoid Traces (out-take) from the above reference: Click Here

Discussion from October 2005 below the June 2011 Discussion

Discussion (June 2011) see below for the October 2005 Discussion

A very interesting video, more so because it Cleary demonstrates that this creeping crinoid is leaving a distinct trail. It makes me want to go and revisit some of the unidentified Ordovician marine track ways I’ve seen

This video is also one of my all time favorites! It certainly explains so many of the strange trace fossils found around the crinoid fossil beds I have seen. I appreciate that Barry took the time to find and set up the new video so the list could see it, some perhaps for the first time. John McLeod alerted us years ago about this amazing discovery, and I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't more interest shown at the time. Discoveries like this one don't happen every day, and it is way cool to be able to see it happening. Enjoy!

I never seen it before - Thanks for sharing!

I had forgotten how cool this video is. Thanks a lot for reposting it. Have you ever seen close-ups of the trail made by the crinoid? That would be interesting to anyone fascinated by trace fossils the way I am.

Reading the comments made back in 2005...I noticed one written by a close friend who passed away recently...Dr. Roger Pabian. It is next to the last comment at the end of the 2005 discussion, at the bottom of the page. His comments starting with "Many years ago the late Harrell Strimple and I discussed the possibility of crinoids having deciduous stems...." is a very interesting read and food for thought.

One of the interesting things to me is that I am not aware of a true “brain” in a crinoid. However, it is clearly showing organized movement. Also, how is it aware that a predator is near by?

Crinoids have no brain or eyes but their well developed nervous system allows them to sense movement, light, and food. Movement would include urchins coming over for dinner. If I was a crinoid...I wouldn't want any unexpected company.

To say that a creature doesn’t have eyes or a brain doesn’t mean that the creature couldn’t sense light or changes in light and/or pressure indicating movement nearby. Jellyfish don’t have eyes per se, but are able to detect light and movement. It is thought that eyes evolved from those primitive sensors. So I guess you could say they have “primitive” eyes. The eyes of trilobites and a great many of the creatures of the Cambrian Explosion were very sophisticated and didn’t spring up fully formed, but were evolved (in several different forms) from the previous “primitive” eyes.

I believe it is also in error to say that there is no light at great depth. Many of the creatures that inhabit the so-called lightless depths create their own and those light displays are magnificent! Why would they create them if nothing could perceive them?

The sensory equipment of crinoids is still unclear, but obviously exists (and did exist). It appears they can sense light, “odors” and perhaps movement. The question is really just how well.

I've a different speculation

The video at hand lacks some additional information disclosed elsewhere on the net. The particular crinoid was accidentally severed by the arm of the submersible-- not fleeing a sea urchin.

What seems remarkable are the psychological implications of evolution. Perhaps distress stimulation of the primitive neural net triggered a genetic memory/behavior. This crinoid seems to have walking down naturally, efficiently, and perfectly. This isn't a setting where the organisim goes through a toddler stage of learning to walk, literally, it had to hit the ground running. It shows coordinated, neural-like connection across multiple limbs. To me it speaks of genetic memory/instinct. This animal is calling upon behaviors of its echinoderm ancestors which had mastered locomotion. We know that starfish arms which are severed could potentially grow whole new bodies and the severed arm continues to attempt locomotion. There is something innate about locomotion in echinoids. This tends to favor theory one below: From wikipedia:

"1. Some have proposed that radial symmetry arose in a free-moving echinoderm ancestor and that sessile groups were derived several times independently from free-moving ancestors. Unfortunately, this view does not address the significance of radial symmetry as an adaptation for a sessile existence.

2. The more traditional view is that the first echinoderms were sessile, became radial as an adaptation to that existence, and then gave rise to free-moving groups.

Radial organization/arrangement = radial bauplan...but not 'symmetry'...

"1. Some have proposed that radial symmetry arose in a free-moving echinoderm ancestor and that sessile groups were derived several times independently from free-moving ancestors. Unfortunately, this view does not address the significance of radial symmetry as an adaptation for a sessile existence."

The symmetry is strictly bilateral.

I agree with what your wrote regarding..."psychological implications of evolution. Perhaps distress stimulation of the primitive neural net triggered a genetic memory/behavior...."

However, you wrote: The video at hand lacks some additional information disclosed elsewhere on the net. The particular crinoid was accidentally severed by the arm of the submersible-- not fleeing a sea urchin.

The original publication reference (link on the web page) "Creeping Crinoids! Sea Lilies Crawl to Escape Predators" Author: University of Michigan Published: Oct. 17, 2005 has a short 10 second QuickTime video link (2nd paragraph) showing a crawling crinoid and one dead crinoid that was apparently killed by the arm of the submersible. Interesting read.

Is this the reference to "some additional information disclosed elsewhere on the net"? If not, then it would be interesting to know the referenced link(s). I can't find any reference stating the stalk of the living crawling crinoid (in the video on the Paleolist page) was severed by the submersible.

My source I think was a another you-tube-like site or news article from several years ago using the same film clip. It is increasingly difficult to keep all these facts organized in my nogin. In this specific case, I thought I recalled this being from an encounter with a submersible. But I was aware that there had been a study regarding predation but until I read the article who's link you posted I didn't know it was more than just a science dot com news blurb. I also seem to recall that this was the best example of a walking crinoid and perhaps it was used to illustrate the original study findings. Reporters and editors do take a lot of license and I know this from direct encounter.

Whether the "fleeing urchins caption" or "accidental severing" explanation, the behavior is remarkable. I defer to the article you quoted. If the crinoids can "autotomy/autotomize" their holdfast in the fashion of lizard and their tail, then perhaps walking isn't such a far in the past throwback of behaviors but one that is reenforced several times per generation. Either way, it is a deliberate oriented stride and not random flailing and thrashing about. Without eyes, I suppose any direction of escape is still better than staying put. We can only guess what senses the crinoid uses to choose a direction or distance of movement.

Again...This is one of my favorite pages on the Paleolist album and the archived discussion makes this page an outstanding addition to the Paleo archives on the Net.

Back in 2005 (after John McLeod's original post) I called a list member pointing out my surprise how little attention was given by the Paleo community (at large) when the University of Michigan published "Creeping Crinoids! Sea Lilies Crawl to Escape Predators" with a short 10 second video.

I was told it was assumed for years (and in some circles known) by those who studying living crinoids that stalked crinoids have the capability of moving. Some scientists studying stalked crinoids in aquariums actually noticed movement. So, when the University of Michigan published "Creeping Crinoids! Sea Lilies Crawl to Escape Predators" it was not "breaking Paleo news"

To me and many others... It was a WOW experience to see "proof" that stalked crinoids can break away from their holdfasts and move. There are several YouTube videos of "non-stalked" (if that's a word) modern free swimming and crawling crinoids. There are YouTube videos titled Flying Crinoid, Walking crinoid, Dancing crinoid, Swimming crinoid... [Link: Click Here]

The old assumption was if a crinoid had a stalk and holdfast it couldn't move and free swimming and floating crinoids are just different species of crinoids and only they had the luxury of movement. Obviously, all crinoids are animals, and all modern crinoids have the ability to move. Only makes sense to me. Stalked crinoids can move simply to locate a better food supply as well as moving to avoiding the danger of being an urchin's dinner.

The argument now appears to be: Have stalked crinoids (in the Paleo record) always had the ability to move? Speculation is not proof. Maybe the answer is in the trace fossil record?

   What I'd like to know is-if it deliberately broke off-released?- the holdfast, how would it re-attach itself? Given that it usually uses those arms to filter food in the currents it needs to get upright again, doesn't it? Please tell me it can otherwise I'm liable to lay awake at night worrying about the poor thing (as I have done from time to time since I saw the first short video some years ago!)
   Also, could the locomotion be caused by those same currents pushing it along, once loose from its moorings?
From what I've read here and elsewhere, I believe some species (the mobile type), including the one in the "Creeping Crinoid" video have small clusters of appendages along the stalk. It is these appendages that they use to reattach themselves to their new home. I could very well be wrong, but that is what I thought I read. This has become an interesting thread.

After reading some posts and replies…it appears that some have not read the web publication by the Univ. of Michigan (see link on the Creeping Crinoids page). The video illustrates just 1 crinoid crawling and drag mark scars in the mud beside the crawling crinoid made by other crinoids (noticeable at 1 min 11 seconds). Univ. of Michigan publication: See paragraphs 5 and 6. These 2 paragraphs shed a lot of light on the subject. Note: the web page only has 1 video and no pictures...the Univ. of Michigan obviously had access to a lot of research, video, and images.

* Just found an interesting reference on the Net and added it as a reference on the website "Stalked Crinoid Locomotion and Its Ecological and Evolutionary Implications" by: Tomasz K. Baumiller and Charles G. Messing - Clickable links to view the web based publication as well as view/save the complete reference as a PDF file. Many discussed speculations questions are answered in this document.

Sometimes I sit and shake my head in total amazement and wonder...

"Stalked Crinoid Locomotion and Its Ecological and Evolutionary Implications" (New linked reference on the web page). Documented proof that stalked crinoids could crawl was known in the late 1980s...Long before the Univ. of Michigan released their short on-line publication (with a 10 second video) in 2005. There's enough information in the "Stalked Crinoid Locomotion and..." publication to keep this thread running for months. If you haven't reviewed the publication... I highly recommend, at least, giving the publication a quick review.

Discussion (October 2005)

If it is not a recent adaptation, crinoid "creeping" may also explain some confusing trace fossils.

Something that one has to remember is that the crinoid in the video was nearly 2,000' down. The bulk of all fossil crinoids found today are from shallow sea floors. A greater effort was made by crinoids to anchor themselves because strong currents (longshore, storm, etc.) could move them into hostile areas or bury them under sediment.

Looking at the holdfasts in the fossil record (Paleozoic anyway), I see a tremendous effort being made by crinoids to stay put. Look at Cincinnaticrinus / Lichenocrinus (Ordovician), Eucalyptocrinites (Silurian), Ancyrocrinus (Devonian) and others that are examples. Some are more problematical, maybe they could move. Agassizocrinus (Mississippian) lost its stalk and rested on a cone. Gilbertoscrinus (Devonian & Mississippian) holdfasts are like coiled rope. Perhaps they could undulate there stalk to move and coil to form a heavy mass that would allow to stay in one spot. Halysiocrinus (Mississippian) had a short stalk relative to the crown, perhaps it could move? Camptocrinus (Mississippian, etc.) and Myelodactylus (Silurian) were small crinoids with coiled stalks. Did they have locomotion? I think there is insufficient evidence.

With regards to the comment about trace fossils by Kevin, I have Ordovician shale samples with the pattern of rolling columns, but these were from fragments. One would need to examine the "tracks" of the moving crinoid to see what they look like. Then it would be possible to search for something similar in the fossil record.

Incidentally, are you aware that stalks can live over a year without the calyx being attached? This has been observed from captured specimens.

There are many areas of unmetmorphosed deep water sediments preserved in outcrop. These include ophiolite sequences, turbidites and diatomite (in areas of upwelling).

Marine organisms, and in particular "living fossils" are famous for relocating their habitat. Two obvious examples besides stalked crinoids are coelecanths and monoplacophorans, which forsaked shallow water for abyssal depths.

My gut reaction to a crinoid dragging a stalk around is that it must represent some kind of vestigial capability from a common ancestor with starfish. I am also curious to see the master list of all stalked crinoid genera that that have been found with holdfasts. I am still puzzling over how we would know that crinoid creeping is a relatively late phenomenon.

Interestingly, there has been no mention at all of this story on Paleonet (the "professional" listserver).

Evidence of crinoids with the ability move around is not new and hot off the presses. The information was known to some researchers 20 years ago. Researchers discovered the footage of the creeping crinoid only recently while reviewing video shot during submersible dives made more than a decade ago.

Apparently it took the release of the video of a creeping crinoid to bring out previously known information about crinoids that have the ability to move around.

I am in awe about the information as well as the video. After what initially appeared to be a "oh hum" reception on the list ... I called other members and asked them for their reaction. Their reaction was WOW (the same as mine) and very excited about the information and the video.

It also blows me away that there was no mention of this story on the Paleonet. I was looking forward to a long thread from the professionals and was most disappointed with their total silence. I think this is one of the hottest subjects in recent Paleo memory. I do not understand why professionals only yawned.

As for the minor reaction to the crawling crinoid, the fact that they can crawl is not too unusual. Stemless crinoids, are quite common on reef structures, are very active crawlers, so biologists would not be too surprised if some stalked crinoids could do the same. They are animals. Also, among stalked crinoids there has been a huge diversity of types that appeared over the span of time, including the floating stalked types of the Ord-Silurian and a variety with very limited attachment capability, so being able to move around probably has developed among a variety of stalked types. Paleontologists and biologists know about this. Among the non-professionals, I expect not many are familiar enough with crinoids to realize that a crawling stalked crinoid is unusual.

Many years ago the late Harrell Strimple and I discussed the possibility of crinoids having deciduous stems from which they could break free to find safety from predators, better food sources, or better envrions like when shallow water became agitated during big storms. I don't know if Harrell ever published any of this. Our thoughts were that volume of crinoid stems far exceeds the volume of cups, crowns, brachials, and other plates. In the Pennsylvanian, we found very few holdfasts and we also entertained the possibility that the crinoid stem functioned much like the tail of a kite to help keep it upright.

Very interesting observation regarding the correlation of found stems in relation to other parts of the crinoid. Your thoughts regarding the holdfast acting like the tail of a kite to help keep the crinoid upright ... Extremely interesting. The holdfast and stems are expendable when movement is required. Obviously the crinoid has the ability to grow another holdfast later when movement in no longer required.

Crinoid crawls to escape predators
Gif-movie showing crawling crinoid in quick motion.
Picture from cover of Palaeontologia Electronica Vol 10/1

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