The brittlestars, or serpent stars, are so called for their long, slender, fragile arms, which are set off sharply from the circular, pentagonal, or slightly star-shaped body disk. The arms of brittlestars are flexible and appear jointed because of the conspicuous plates of the outer surface. They bear a row of spines along each edge. In one group, the basket stars, they are repeatedly branched, forming a large mass of tentaclelike limbs. Each arm contains a radial canal (or one of its branches), but it does not contain body organs. Brittlestars feed on detritus and small organisms. The mouth leads to a large saclike stomach that fills most of the body cavity. There is no intestine or anus, and solid waste is extruded through the mouth. The stomach is folded into ten pouches, between which lie ten respiratory sacs that open by slits onto the oral surface. The cells lining the sacs have flagellae, which create a current of water moving in and out. Respiratory exchange occurs chiefly through the thin lining of the sacs.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.