Starfishes, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers and Related Invertebrates

Porania Cushion Star and Sunstar

Cushion Star, Porania pulvillus, and the Sunstar, Crossaster papposus


Greek   echinos = sea urchin,  derma = skin.

Marine animals that are radially symmetrical (most species) and contain a unique water vascular system, and tube feet that are used for movement, respiration, protection (spines) and assist in the capture of food.

The Echinodermata are exclusively marine, and most species are intolerant of immersion in low salinity water. One remarkable observation is that they are rarely settled on by barnacles, mussels and other fouling organisms.

    Cushion Star, Asterina gibbosa, with the Shore Urchin, Psammechinus miliaris.
        Photograph by Robert Jones (Trowbridge)
    The Cushion Star is only found on the shore and in the seas to the south and west of the British Isles. The Purple-tipped Shore Urchin has a more widespread distribution but is not particularly common between the tides, although it seem to be known from most rocky coasts where it is usually found attached to the underside of rocks near the low spring tide mark.


Common Starfish, Asterias rubens
COTTON-SPINNER, Holothuria forskali
More Photographs

Echinoderm Links
The Echinoderm Newsletter
Echinoderm Page (External)
Photographs from Loch Fyne
Echinoderm (Aphotomarine)

A small specimen of the Sunstar, Crossaster papposus.

More information links:

Echinocardium cordatum

Reports of Asterias rubens (Link)

Photograph by Nic Faulks15 July 2012
An Arctic Rigid Cushion Star,Hippasteria phrygiana, was spotted on a dive off the Northumberland  coast in the proposed Marine Conservation Zone between Coquet and St Mary’s. This northern species is one of only two records off an English coast. It usually inhabits the seas off Greenland and all over the northern Atlantic although it it is present in the seas around the Shetland Isles and it has been trawled off St. Abbs further north on the same North Sea coast. This cushion star was around 10 cm across and was recorded at 20 metres depth on a cobble/pebble seabed. 

Report by Paula Lightfoot on facebook Seasearch
Photograph by Nic Faulks
Marine Conservation Zone Project Interactive Map
Brittlestar 4 June 2012
A rockpooling visit to Worthing Pier on a low (0.4 metres) spring tide produced a surprise Common Brittlestar, Ophiothrix fragilis.

14 March 2010

Starfish at Budleigh Salterton
Photograph by Tony Herbert on flickr
Starfish at Budleigh Salterton
Photograph by Scott Eley

Thousands of Common Starfish, Asterias rubens, were washed up on the strandline on the shingle beach at Budleigh Salterton in south Devon (East Devon AONB). The line of washed up starfish stretched for over a mile.

Report by Scott Eley

9 December 2009
An exceptional mass stranding of millions (a galaxy) of Common Starfish, Asterias rubens, stretched in a broad band for over a quarter of a mile on Holkham Beach on the north coast of Norfolk. 

Daily Mail News Report (with photographs and a map)

Their usual residence would be feeding on the mussel beds offshore. From a previous occurrence underneath the chalk cliffs east of Brighton Marina, Sussex, it is my surmise that the mass migration occurs because the Common Starfish have exceeded their food supply offshore. Perhaps, this occurs because of commercial dredging of the mussels. In this case the stranding could have been exacerbated by north-easterly gales. 

Comments by Andy Horton

5 December 2009
We discovered two Sunstars, Crossaster papposus, on the beach at Winthorpe, Lincolnshire. We have never seen these before on this coast although the five legged Common Starfish, Asterias rubens, are quite common.

Report by Steve and Avril Froggatt

26 March 2008
After a recent bout of northerlies in North Wales I took the dog for a walk down on Red Wharf Bay on Anglesey and found all sorts of things washed up. Much of the material was deposited across the entire intertidal to the east of the bay, but more concentrated on the strandline towards the west. 
Brittlestars (various species) were particularly abundant on the upper shore, with patches a couple of inches (or more) thick. Common Starfish, Asterias rubens,  were also very abundant, as a rough guess at 5-10 per square metre with species such as the Sand Starfish Astropecten irregularis, and Heart Urchin Echinocardium cordatum

Report by Daniel Ward on the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean (Yahoo Group)

23 March 2008
Mixed Asterias and Sunstars (Photograph by Rupert Smith)
Brittlestar (Photograph by Rupert Smith) Sunstar (Photograph by Rupert Smith)

Over Easter, after some heavy storms with snow blowing in off the North Sea, I discovered hundreds of Common Starfish, Asteria rubens, a lot of Sunstars, Crossaster papposus, and Brittlestars washed up on the sands of Holkham Beach, Norfolk.

Report & Photographs by Rupert Smith
16 March 2008

Hundreds of the sea cucumber Thyone fusus, many exuding their guts and gonads as a response to the stress, were discovered washed dead on up on the shore Newborough in North Wales (only a few nautical miles from Dinas Dinlle). 

Report and Photographs by Liz Morris (Marine Ecological Solutions Ltd

12 March 2008

This Cotton-Spinner, a sea cucumber properly called Holothuria forskali, was washed up dead on White Strand beach, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry.
I'd seen live ones in lobster pots but this was the first 'stranded' one I've seen.
Report by Rosemary Hill

December 2006
Two deep water sea stars were recorded and collected by a ROV submersible, the first a beige species with short arms (like a cushion star) from a depth of around 250 metres off west Norway, and the second similar one from a depth of 600 metres in a Norwegian fjord at an earlier date. Neither of these species have been positively identified at time of writing.
Full Report with the Links to Images

Report by Dr. Hans G. Hansson on the Echinoderm-L Discussion List

The species are suggested as Peltaster placenta and Diplopteraster multipes.

Suggestions by K. Emily Knott on the Echinoderm-L Discussion List

28 January 2006
Thousands of dead specimens of the Common Starfish, Asteria rubens, were washed up on the beach about a mile and a half to the north of Tywyn on the Cardigan Bay coast of north-west Wales.  There seem to be various interpretations of these mass strandings, including winter storms and changes in water temperature.

Report by Derek Williams

13 January 2005
Hundreds of Sea Cucumbers were amongst the wreck of animal remains discovered on the Dinas Dinlle beach west of Llanwrog (south-west of Caernarfon), north-west Wales. 
Sea Cucumber (Photograph by Paul Jasper)
Mermaid's Purse (Photograph by Paul Jasper)

They were scattered all over the strandline and shore with other remains including the common Mermaid's Purses (egg cases of the Dogfish) and the decaying carcass of a dead Seal. Sea Cucumbers are an unusual echinoderm washed up between the tides. 

Report and Photographs by Paul Jasper
Another Sea Cucumber report (in Diver magazine)
BMLSS Strandline

The sea cucumber looks like Thyone fusus can be found as far north as Norway grows up to 20 cm.

ID by Gary Cross
Comparative Image

Sea Cucumbers; General Information - 1
Sea Cucumbers; General Information - 2

c. 11 June 2003
On the beach from Sutton-on-Sea up to Mablethorpe, East Lindsey (Easy Yorkshire), we noticed thousands of dead starfish ranging from 3-10 cm in size, along with large numbers of dead crabs and some small shellfish. The starfish were almost certainly the Common Starfish, Asterias rubens.

Report by Ian Mann
This stretch of coast seems to be particularly prone to  large and massive strandings of starfish and other marine life.
Previous Report of a Massive Wreck

27 September 2002
The pink starfish with 13 legs discovered on Bridlington beach, Yorkshire, was the Sunstar, Crossaster papposus. This is a common species but it is not often reported washed up on the shore.

Report by Sally Tompkins
18 September 2002
A bright orange starfish, Echinaster sepositus, was caught in a bottom gill net  near the south-west corner of Guernsey in over 30 metres of water. The fisherman, Ken Robilliard, who caught it and has fished for 25 years says he had never seen this species before.
Report from Richard Lord (Guernsey)
via the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group
Previous Report

17 March 2002
Thousands of Common Starfish, Asteria rubens, are washed up on the beach at Holkham, Norfolk, on the east coast of England after sustained north-easterly gales.

Ananova News Story

c. 14 March 2002
After a sustained period of north-easterly gales, there was a massive stranding of marine animals and weed on the Yorkshire shore (north-east England) between Fraisthorpe and Barmston (East Yorks: Holderness). The most noticeable of the animals washed up were hundreds of thousands of starfish mostly of the Common Starfish, Asteria rubens, but other species were present. The list of interesting animals washed up included decapod crustaceans including Lobsters that were still alive, crabs etc., a wide variety of fish, sea anemones, polychaete worms, molluscs including octopuses, porpoises, seals and tonnes of seaweed. This is the largest stranding recording on these web pages.

Report by N V Proctor (University of Hull)
Full List of Species
Strandline & Beachcombing Page

28 August 1999
A commercial fishermen found the beautiful orange starfish, Echinaster sepositus, north of Herm Island. The crab potter has fished for 20 years and had never seen one before. The books say that this starfish reaches the northern part of its range in the Channel Islands.

Report by Richard Lord (Guernsey)

    Northern Cushion Star

    Porania pulvillus

    This colourful cushion star is is an exceptional find on the shore and is not often reported by divers, preferring deep cold seas.

In late December 20'01, I picked an unusually shaped starfish ( I'd not seen one like this in 22 years of diving ) from a trawlers net on Eyemouth pier (near St Abbs).
I enlisted the help of the National Museum of Scotland and Dr Susan Chambers identified it as a specimen of Hippasteria phrygiana.
More enquiry gleaned the info that the trawler had last fished ' 3 miles off Sunderland' and prior to that 'off Whitby', so the exact location is a bit uncertain.
I got recent records from JNCC - they have 7 from 1974 to 1990 - 3 off Shetland, 3 from NW Scotland and one from Rockall.
Dove Marine Lab  have none since 1912.
From internet searches the distribution would seem to be all across the north Atlantic - Stellwagen Bank, Iceland, Faroes.
I also found a good photo by Bernard Picton at -
George Davidson, (Eyemouth, Borders)

I found this starfish whilst shore diving at St. Abbs in 1988. It was just off Maw Carr (Seagull Rock) adjacent to the harbour fairway. As I had never seen it before in the area, I therefore assumed it was a discard from a fishing boat entering the harbour. However, boats fishing out of St Abbs (then as now) do not go further afield than the Firth of Forth (for Nephrops) so it would appear to have come from a somewhat different area to the one George found.
I have a picture but do not know how to attach it.

Jim Greenfield
Hi Everyone,

I can add that this starfish is most plentiful here along the Norwegian coast. Not uncommon to see 10 or more in a dive. Usually most abundant in winter months. Some have commensals.

From: "Espen Rekdal"

Glossary of Echinoderm terms:

Pedicellariae: tiny modified spines topped with 2- or 3-jawed pincers, very mobile and sometimes poisonous, which are used to remove settling larvae and other material from sea urchins (or starfish).

Papulae:   little fleshy projections of the body wall in starfish, which give an increased surface area for gas exchange and excretion; large numbers give it a slightly 'furry' look.

Ambulacrum: one of five bands of small plates running from the top to the bottom of a sea urchin, through which the tube feet emerge. The ambulacra are separated by wider inter-ambulacra made up of larger plates. The other echinoderms (starfish; brittlestars; sea cucumbers and feather stars) also have tube feet emerging through ambulacra, but the details are different.

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