Protecting nature through research, education, and outreach

Asterias vulgaris

Hello all!

A new year has arrived and so has the Creature Feature. I will give you a couple of hints to try and figure out January’s Creature Feature. Your job is to grab a pencil and paper to draw what you think this month’s creature feature looks like. Okay – grab your drawing utensils and start sketching away!

Here are the clues:

1. It has the skeleton on the outside of its body;

2. on average has at least 5 arms, but other species within the family can have up to 14;

3. has an eye at the end of each arm; (so 5 arms equals 5 eyes, etc.);

4. has thousands of tube feet; and

5. in order for this species to devour its prey, it must overt its stomach out of its mouth to eats the prey while it is still alive!

Now does your drawing represent a scary, obnoxious looking monster!? Or does it look more along the lines of a sea star! All of these traits correspond with this month’s Creature Feature, the Sea Star (Asterias vulgaris).

I would like to bring a couple of misconceptions of the sea star to light. Some of these misnomers are caused by old teachings and possibly even from your favorite cartoon show, SpongeBob Squarepants!

First off, the sea star is not a fish, which is why we don’t call them starfish. They fall into the category of echinoderms. Echinoderm refers to their “spiny skin” or exoskeleton. This coat of armor gives the sea star the extra protection that it needs from crabs, birds, etc.

Sea stars are also able to regenerate their arms, or rays, if they get harmed in any way. As long as they have a part of the central nervous system still attached, they will be able to regenerate. Sea stars do not technically have a brain, but a central cell which allows the sea star to perform all the functions it needs to do over the course of its lifetime.

Now on SpongeBob Squarepants, our friend Patrick happens to have two eyes. That is incorrect. A sea star has an eye at the end of each ray. So if Patrick was anatomically correct, he would have 5 eyes. There is a species of sea star that can have up to 14 rays! Now that is a lot of eyes! Even if the sea star has more eyes than us, that does not necessarily mean they can see better. Their main way of viewing is by different shades of light and dark.

Well after reading and learning more about this phenomenal species, and the inevitable pleasure of watching a SpongeBob episode, come venture over to the Lloyd Center for some environmental entertainment! Happy New Year!!