by Mary Reid Barrow
Other than the sad stranding of the giant leatherback turtle on the Chesapeake Bay beach, a lone sea star was the only other unusual critter washed ashore by Tropical storm Sallie and friends that I have heard of so far.
And this was one unusual, actually beautiful sea star. My friend Bruce Lunsford and her enthusiastic dog, Izzy, found the sea star on the beach somewhere around 70th Street. It was still alive so after Izzy and another dog friend solved their curiosity, Bruce threw the sea star back into the ocean. Here’s the video she took of the event:
Notice that this sea star is not as plump as the common sea star we generally see on our beach. I am pretty sure it is a species called a slender sea star that is a denizen of waters south of Hatteras and is only occasionally found as far north as Virginia.
Obviously, it’s called a slender sea star, because of its slender arms. Another Id feature is a fine line that most of these sea stars have down each slender arm. And when I enlarged. the photo, I could see the lines on this critter’s arms.
Notice also that the sea star looks like it is standing on tiptoes. I wondered if that was about as defensive a posture as a sea star could have! But I couldn’t find any information about a sea star’s getting defensive when it sensed danger. I did read that many sea stars stand way up on tiptoe when spawning, though I doubt that spawning was on this little one’s mind.
In my experience when one sea star washes up on the beach after a storm, more follow, along with beach finds like moon snails, baby’s ear shells, whelks and more. So as the tide levels get lower and the surf calms, this weekend might be a good time for beach combing at low tide.
Sea stars, bottom dwelling critters, live in the ocean where they move about on many tiny little tube feet that line the underside of their arms. Sea stars have a little mouth in the center of those tube feet and some sensory organs, but no real eyes or brain.
Slender sea stars dine primarily on other sea stars! But our common sea stars use their strong arms to open shellfish, like oysters, mussels and clams and then dine on the meat.
When I was growing up, we called them starfish, but some time in my adulthood, the name was changed to sea star so the critters wouldn’t be confused with fish.
But by any name, they are special to see, especially a slender sea star.
Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell? What relationships have you observed between plants and critters? Who eats whom? Who has babies where? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org