Wildlife Wednesdays: The Starfish

The starfish: a well loved yet often overlooked marine species.

Which is why the first Wildlife Wednesday of 2018 is dedicated to this incredible little creature.

Did you know that in UK waters alone, there are around 6 different species ?

Although the common starfish is most people’s introduction to marine life, I’ve never managed to find one while rock pooling.

Rock pool

I took my nephew to Sea Life recently and he was thrilled to be allowed to gently stroke a starfish, under the supervision of staff there.

Together, we learnt some pretty basic facts, but while researching this blog, I found out even more…

  • Starfish aren’t actually fish at all. They’re echinoderms which puts them in the same family as sea cucumbers and sea urchins. (Scientists are actually pushing to use the name ‘Sea Star’ to avoid confusion…)
  • Starfish have no brains (but they can still feel and make decisions) and no blood (it’s actually filtered seawater)
  • Starfish have a carnivorous diet (eating clams, oysters and mussels) but aren’t great hunters as they move so slowly
  • In the wild, starfish can live up to 35 years
  • They can grow new limbs if one is severed – and in some cases, a whole new starfish has been regenerated from a severed limb!!
  • They move with their stomachs facing the ocean floor and they detect food by smell rather than sight.
  • Instead of eyeballs, starfish have eye spots which can only detect light and dark but their sense of smell is incredibly sensitive – even telling them which direction prey is coming from
  • Starfish have two stomachs

Orange Starfish on Pebbles

So if you’re in the UK, what can you expect to see? According to the Marine Conservation Society, types of starfish spotted in the UK include:

  • The Common Starfish – orange in colour and typically found across the UK on lower shores, seabeds and rock pools
  • The Common Brittlestar – usually found in deep water but have been sighted under boulders on sand or beach pools. Easily distinguished by their five very thin, fragile arms which break easily. Each arm joint also has small spikes adding to its prickly look!
  • The Common Sunstar – also orange in colour but with pale stripes and bulkier than the Common starfish. These can have anywhere from 8 to 14 legs ! Only found in deeper water around the UK though so unlikely to spot unless you’re scuba diving…
  • The Cushion Star – with shorter, stubbier arms than the other types, the Cushion Star is found under boulders along shores in the South and West. The adults are dull in colour but young ones are vivid and bright!
  • The Rosy Starfish – predictably, it’s orange-pink in colour with five spindly arms. Located in northerly areas in deep water – it’s rare to spot one!
  • The Spiny Starfish – one of the biggest starfish found in the UK, and a striking ivory white colour. Found in the west and south west coasts in gulleys and pools of the lower shore.

 

White Starfish on sand

Feeling inspired to spot a sea star?

Who knows, if you’re out on the shore and you come across boulders or pools, have a look. But be careful – replace any rocks you remove and don’t take a starfish out of water for too long as they need to be at least partially wet to survive.

For more information, have a look at the Marine Conservation Society website here or the National Geographic site here.

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