Starfish on the Reef

Ever since my childhood visits to my great-grandmother’s house on Balboa island, I’ve loved starfish.

As a child, I walked the beach on sunny mornings, bucket in hand, collecting the starfish stuck on the sand and returning them to the water. I used a bucket in order to return them all to the water directly in front of my grandmother’s home–on the theory that they would be easier to find and protect the next day if I kept them all together and nearby. (It seemed logical at the time. And no, I never did wonder why they scattered out again the following morning.)

It probably comes as no surprise that I relate to The Star Thrower story that ends with the famous line “made a difference to that one.” The first time I heard it, I recognized my childhood self.

When I started my reef aquarium back in 2010, I learned with delight that starfish (more properly known as “sea stars”) were an option. I’d seen them on the sand, and in tide pools, many times, but the thought of watching them live their lives underwater was a kind of dream come true.

113A legs

Unfortunately, my aquarium is too small for many sea star species. Most would starve to death in a 60-gallon reef. To my delight, however, there are still some stars that thrive in a space like mine.

The smallest brittle stars (known as micro-brittles) live on detritus and thrive in the cracks and crevices on my reef. I sometimes turn on the lights to find one wandering across the glass or over the rocks to find a new hangout:

Up close, they’re fascinating creatures:

13B Walkabout star

Micro brittles usually enter a reef as “hitchhiking” species, which means they’re lurking in live rock or hiding under a coral so the reefkeeper doesn’t even know they’re there. At feeding time, they extend their arms from their hiding places and “wave” in search of food:

13D16 Brittle Stars 2

Other starfish, such as sand-sifting stars or the popular red and blue linckias, enter the reef more deliberately. One such species that seems to do well in my tank is the smaller, brightly-colored Fromia sea star, which feeds on algae and detritus. Fromia stars don’t move very fast, and spend a lot of time roaming over the hidden parts of the reef, so when mine makes a “public appearance” I usually reach for the camera:

13G Starfish

I’ve had it for several months, but typically see it only a couple of times a week.

Which brings up an interesting point about reef aquariums: there’s always something new to see, but you don’t see it all at once, and you never see everything. Still, it’s nice to know the stars are there, and fun to look for them on the reef!

Do you like starfish? Have you ever handled one? Would you like to?



One thought on “Starfish on the Reef

  • July 12, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    The reef is so active and amazing. I’ve never handled a starfish and have never thought about adding that to my bucket list.

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