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Basket Stars

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Animal Updates | Invertebrates | Video | Volunteering

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Basket Stars
The basket star

Hugh's Aquarium Views Video number 12

It looks a campy alien monster out of a 1960’s Irwin Allen sci-fi TV show. It’s tentacle-like arms curling in and out to ambush unsuspecting prey. The eerily pulsating membrane of its body announces that its poor victims are being devoured. Yet it’s not science fiction. It’s a creature called a basket star and you can see it in person at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

One of the great things about volunteering at the Aquarium of the Pacific is that you meet a lot of staffers that are passionate about the creatures they care for. There are highly charismatic animals that I wouldn’t normally know to stop and look at until one of their care takers point out how cool they really are. Case in point is senior aquarist Kylie. On our way to feed the sea otters early one Saturday morning Kylie stopped us and announced to our mammal staff that she was about to feed the Basket Star and that it’s pretty cool to watch. Since we had to take care of the otters first I set up my iPhone in time-lapse mode looking into the basket star exhibit and let it run while she released brine shrimp into the water. Thirty minutes later when I look at the footage I was mesmerized. As the shrimp floated about, the many arms of the star reached out to capture them. The arms would then curl back like a watch spring to bring its prey underneath its body to eat. As it ate, the basket star’s body would pulsate like a diaphragm. It really did give me flashbacks to all the campy science fiction aliens I watched as a kid on TV.

Kylie later gave me more information about the basket star. This particular star was collected off San Diego in deep water 200 to 300 meters down. It is one of the largest species of basket stars. Basket stars are thought to occur worldwide. This species tends to like being in colder waters with strong currents so that their arms can reach out and capture prey floating by.

As cool as their method of capturing their prey is the coolest fact that Kylie told me about the star is how their reproductive cycle works. The stars sexually reproduce by broadcasting their gametes in the water. Once fertilization occurs, there is a period of development that happens independently of the adults. Once the star has developed feeding arms it will move to an adult and crawl in and out of small cave like pockets in the adult’s bodies for protection during the day, waiting until night to come back out to feed. They will do this until they grow much larger.

Check out the video to see the wonders of the basket star and learn more about them as Kylie narrates the time-lapse.

Basket Stars
Aquarist Kylie with the basket stars in the Northern Jewels display at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Basket Stars
Baby basket star image showing pockets on parent star where they hide during the day. This is the underside of the basket star's body.

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