Echinodermata

Class Asteroidea

Sea stars, or starfish, vary in shape from nearly circular, to pentagonal, to the familiar starlike and flowerlike forms with five or more tapering arms. The arms are extensions of the body; each contains an extension of the body cavity, a radial canal, and body organs. Each arm has an ambulacral groove on the undersurface; in the furrow of the groove is the ambulacral area, or ambulacrum, with holes for the tube feet. The margins of the groove have spines that can close over the ambulacrum. The tip of each arm bears a tube foot that functions as a sensory receptor for chemical and vibratory stimuli, and some have a red pigment spot that serves as a simple eye. The outer surface consists of a latticework of lime ossicles, or plates, between which project thin-walled fingerlike extensions called papulae. The papulae and the tube feet are the principal sites of respiratory exchange. In some groups of sea stars there are also body wall projections called pedicellaria, equipped with tiny pinchers that are operated by muscles and are used to clean the body surface and capture very small prey. Sea stars crawl about on rocks or muddy bottoms, feeding on a variety of living and dead animals. Many feed largely on bivalve mollusks and are notorious as destroyers of commercial oyster beds. There are two or more gonads in each arm; at spawning time these may nearly fill the arms. The swimming larva settles and goes through a sessile (attached) stage while changing to the adult form.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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