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Back You are here: Home Features Events and Features Fort Fisher Aquarium Ask the Aquarium for November 27th, 2013

Ask the Aquarium for November 27th, 2013

Question. We found a small, long-armed, squiggly creature clinging to our crab pot. It looked like some kind of starfish, but was grayish and skinner than the orange ones we find on the beach. We let it go. Was it some kind of starfish?

Fast but fragile brittle stars rely on muscles in their slender rays to push and pull themselves along.

ANSWER - Your discovery sounds like a brittle star, a type of sea star. These supple creatures live and hide in a variety of habitats – on pilings, jetties, rocks, bottom debris – and even in seaweed, marine plants and in clusters of oysters and barnacles. They also bury in sand or mud. Some brittle stars prefer calm waters in sounds and estuaries. Others live in the shallow water below the low tide line. Some inhabit ocean depths as much as 4,000 feet, and certain species congregate in tremendous numbers on the open sea floor. Brittle stars move faster than common sea stars; however, their rays are fragile and break easily, earning them their name. They shun light, and, when exposed, their long rays, called arms, begin searching frantically for a place for the little sea star to hide. In some parts of the world, the snake-like arms of these marine animals have given them the name “serpent stars.”  Like other sea stars, brittle stars can regenerate missing parts. For a look at brittle stars on the move, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Texm2eTmSc.
Primarily night hunters, brittle stars feed on organic debris, worms, small crustaceans and carrion. They rely mainly on smell to locate food, and tiny tube feet on their rays pass tidbits to their mouth on the underside of their central disc.
Most brittle stars are covered with nearly invisible small scales and tiny spines.
Colors and markings vary widely, from gray to creamy yellowish-brown to dark brown to black and green. Some species have a light stripe running the length of each ray. The colorful daisy brittle star in northern Atlantic waters has a central disk that’s usually red and rays with red and white bands. The central disk can also be blue and brown with rays banded green and brown. Discover more fascinating facts about North Carolina’s aquatic animals and environments by visiting the aquariums on Roanoke Island, at Fort Fisher and at Pine Knoll Shores, or Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.