Snapshot – Sunflower Sea Star

Hansville, WA – Sea stars, also known as starfish, are a favorite among beach goers. Their iconic five point symmetry and vibrant colors never fail to attract our attention.  Did you know that there are over 30 different sea star species to be found in the nearshore waters off the Pacific Northwest coast? Easy to spot, they present in a variety of sizes, textures and colors.

When we think of a sea star, we usually think of a handsome creature with five arms (rays), but there is one group of sea stars that actually grow an additional 10-20 arms. Known by some as sea suns, this group of stars are equally at home in rocky areas or sandy bottom waters.  The largest by far is the sunflower star, whose diameter can be a whopping meter (39 inches) across!

Experience the Sunflower Sea Star

    • Look for a multi-rayed star whose bulky body is softer and more squishy than most other sea stars. Sunflower stars begin life with 5 rays, but grow more as they age, topping out at about 24.
    • Sunflower stars can really move it when they want to.  Clocked at about 2 meters per minute, they are fun to watch.
    • Fast moving sunflower stars need to eat often to support all those rays, and are known to eat almost anything in their path. Carefully look at the hole (mouth) in the center of the underside. You may be able to spot lunch in the process of being digested.
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    This sunflower star was found lying upside down on the beach. The star’s unique mesh-like skeleton is composed of disconnected pieces, which allows it to open its mouth wide enough to engulf large prey.  Sunflower stars will eat sea urchins, crabs, clams, snails, sea cucumbers and even other sea stars.  They are not picky eaters!
    • Sunflower stars are typically found in lower tidal zones, as their skin is less resistant to drier intertidal zones than some other Salish Sea stars.  So, you will typically only find them exposed at very low tides.
    • Those rays need lots of tube feet, up to 15,000 of them altogether! All that foot power helps the sunflower star move quickly, but also helps it hold on when need be.
    • Sunflower star populations have been decimated by the wasting disease that has impacted all sea stars over the past 5-7 years.
    • For more information about sea stars – Sea Stars of the Pacific Northwest and Dancing with the Stars

If you have questions or comments about the sunflower star, please contact us or post in the comment section.

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How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small. Psalm 104:24-25

Images and Video – SPegany©2000-2020

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