Brittle stars are nocturnal scavengers that can be found in ecosystems throughout the world’s oceans. These animals consist of a clearly defined circular or pentagonal central disk surrounded by five long, slender arms. Sizes can vary by species and can range from 8 inches in diameter to 20 inches in diameter.
  • Size

    8 inches to 20 inches (20 - 50 cm)
  • Diet

    Plants, algae, fish feces and detritus
  • Range

    Occur in ecosystems throughout the world’s oceans.
  • Habitat

    Ocean floor

Physical Characteristics

  • Body consists of a clearly defined circular or pentagonal central disk surrounded by five long, slender arms.
  • Ophioderma brevispinum: short-spine brittle star – Caribbean, up to 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter.
  • Ophiocoma echinata: spiny/black brittle star – Caribbean, up to 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.
  • Ophiarachna incrassata: green and gold brittle star – Indo-Pacific, up to 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter.

Animal Fact

Most species of brittle stars reproduce by spawning, but some will reproduce sexually, and others will go through a process called fission. During fission, an individual will split in half and regrow the missing body parts to become a whole sea star.

Diet / Feeding

  • Diet typically consists of plants, algae, fish feces and detritus.
  • Nocturnal scavengers.

Range / Habitat

  • Occur in ecosystems throughout the world’s oceans.

Reproduction & Growth

  • Most species reproduce externally through spawning. A minority of brittle stars reproduce in other ways:
  • Some reproduce sexually and will brood their young until the juveniles grow large enough to crawl away.
  • Others reproduce asexually through a process called fission, in which individuals split in half and regenerate missing body parts.

Conservation Status

  • “Not Evaluated” on IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • Members of the class Ophiuroida, which also includes basket stars.
  • Named for their ability to break off an arm in order to escape predators.
  • Typically move by articulating the long, flexible arms, rather than using tube feet like sea stars.

Sources

  • Sea Stars, Sea Urchins, and Allies. Hendler, Miller, et al.
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