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Starfish: What Is it That Makes Them so Creepy?

Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.

Marine biologists holding up two eight pound specimens of Macroptychaster accrescens.

Marine biologists holding up two eight pound specimens of Macroptychaster accrescens.

Since I have based my life and many of my articles around animals I sometimes get the question, “Are you afraid of any animals?” to which I must reply honestly that starfish really freak me out. I know when most people see a starfish it’s a dried specimen glued to a lampshade or a picture frame. It’ll have five perfectly even arms and not move, being as its dead. Living starfish are trickier though. They could easily be the inspiration of dozens of B rated science fiction horrors if only more people knew what they were up to. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Starfish are ancient. The oldest multi-legged starfish in the fossil record is 444 million years old. That’s more than 200 million years older than the oldest dinosaur.
  • Starfish have disturbing eating habits. Starfish have no teeth so they decided the best way to eat dinner was to swaddle their potential meal in their stomach which they puke up first. The delectable tidbit will be partially digested outside of the body while it’s soaking in stomach acids before being slurped up, stomach and all.
  • Starfish repopulate faster than the speed of light. OK maybe they don’t breed that fast but it is pretty alarming. Basically a starfish has two methods of making more starfish. The first is through spawning which means that they’ll all gather together and release eggs and sperm into the open ocean hoping they’ll find each other. Female starfish can release as many as 65 million eggs per spawning session. That’s a whole lot of kids! The other method I’ll visit in the next section.
  • Starfish are intensely hard to kill. In the old days fishermen having problems with starfish would take the offending creatures, cut them in half, and drop them back into the sea. This backfired miserably because starfish can not only grow back body parts they can also grow a whole other starfish to go with their lost limb. In fact you could theoretically put a starfish in a blender and end up with millions of them. So long as there is one cell from their central body segment with which to regrow they will indeed form another starfish.
  • Starfish have odd arms. Most people think starfish have five arms. There are a lot of species that do indeed have five arms but some like the sun star can have 40 or more. Some speculate there are certain stars out there with as many as fifty arms.
  • Starfish have a freaky family tree. It’s true. Starfish’s closest relatives are sand dollars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers.
  • Starfish don’t have any blood. Instead of blood, they pump sea water through their vascular system.
  • Starfish can see you. Can you guess where their eyes are located? If you guessed at the tip of each arm you are today’s winner.
  • Starfish are everywhere. There are over 1,800 species of starfish living in the world today that inhabit pretty much every crevice and ecosystem the ocean has to offer including tide pools that form on beaches.
  • Starfish can be huge. Some species can weigh as much as thirteen pounds as adults. Other species can have arms that stretch as far as four feet across and still yet others can be 4 to 5 inches thick.
  • Starfish are great at invasions. Recently the crown of thorns starfish has been eating coral in “The Coral Triangle,” an area known for the most diverse reefs on the planet. Why its population has suddenly turned into plague proportions is unknown (possibly due to global warming, poor water quality, or human actions.) They are going through the reefs like a swarm of locusts, leaving little behind in their wake.
  • Starfish can be kept as pets. Starfish like to show up in the salt water tanks of hobbyists. Sometimes they’re purchased as interesting pets and put in there on purpose but more often than not they just show up. Sometimes they’re lodged in “live rock,” sometimes they’re in or on other things you put in the tank. Either way an infestation is pretty common.
  • Starfish have a decent lifespan. Hobbyists claim most starfish in their tanks live for about eight years but scientists have no idea how long wild starfish live for or how old the oldest species can get.
  • Starfish move bizarrely. Starfish move by the hundreds of tube feet they have on their undersides. When I first saw a brittle star move its arms I was transfixed in a disturbed sort of way. Later I learned there are starfish that can jettison water out and create a sand cloud that will cover them completely under the surface of the ground. And then there are starfish that can swim. Those are the creepiest in my humble opinion. Below are some videos of starfish movement and eating.

Starfish Swarm Eats Seal


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Loralie Lyndon from USA on July 25, 2012:

Wow, great hub on starfish! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love starfish and think they are such amazing creatures. Here's some more facts that I found on starfish that might peek your curiosity... Thanks for sharing!

Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on April 26, 2012:

Yes, some are difficult to keep in aquariums, as are many aquatic critters.... I was sort of referring to wild ones.

The red thing is a feather starfish, though not technically a true starfish it's close enough related that laymen still call it a starfish. I will make a short note of that.

Melissa A Smith from New York on April 26, 2012:

Aww, that red guy isn't a starfish, and they are indeed, easy to kill, unfortunately. Crinoids are notoriously difficult to keep in aquariums. I'd bet a million dollars that guy is no longer with us :(

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