American Oceans

Types of Starfish to Know

Starfish, also called sea stars, are natural wonders of the world, and many may not even know why.

stimpson’s sun star with purplish-gray stripes underneath rays

Not only do these creatures look otherworldly, but they also have stunning features to match. For example, starfish can reproduce lost limbs, and those lost limbs can grow into a few starfish.

Starfish also don’t have blood, making them a wonder of the natural world.

You can find dozens of different types of starfish in the ocean, zoos, and aquatic centers – each with its distinct colors and behaviors.

Read on to learn about 19 types of starfish in more detail!

What Are Starfish?

Starfish, despite their name, aren’t fish. Instead, starfish are marine invertebrates and lie in three categories of marine creatures, including Phanerzonia, Forcipulata, and Spinulosa.

Typically, starfish have five arms, but some sea stars may have more limbs. Some sea stars, like the sunflower sea star, have been spotted with up to 24 limbs.

Nearly 2,000 species of sea stars exist, all of which can be found in the ocean. None of these species will survive in freshwater, and only a handful of starfish types can live in brackish or murky environments.

Most starfish have spikes or lumps across the surface of the body. These spikes can sometimes be venomous and infect humans or other sea life, offering the starfish a way to escape danger.

Australian Southern Sand Star

an australian sand star on the shore

Scientific Name: Luidia australiae
Distribution: Pacific Ocean Near Australia and New Zealand
Average Size: 16 in

The Australian Southern Sand Star is one of the largest sea stars in its region of Australia and New Zealand.

This type of starfish usually has around seven arms that are flexible and can grow to about eight inches long. The Australian Southern Sand Star also has many small fringes and spines that help it move.

Interestingly, this starfish can come in a wide range of colors, including light, pale to dark colors.

Some of these starfish can be mottled, having many colors, including yellow, black, grey, and green shades.

The Australian Southern Sand Star prefers to find shade and cover in reefs and other locations. If shelter isn’t readily available, this starfish will burrow into the foliage at the bottom of the ocean, like seagrass or sand. You may even find this starfish covered in silt while trying to hide.

Morning Sun Star

a morning sun sea star

Scientific Name: Solaster dawsoni
Distribution: Northern Pacific Ocean
Average Size: 16 in

Unlike many other starfish, the morning sun star can be found only at great depths, around 1,380 feet.

This creature prefers rocky environments and may be spotted on the ocean floor with special camera equipment. However, these creatures may lay on sand or silt if they can’t find a rocky place to relax.

This starfish gets its name from its color, an orange-brown or reddish tone that can be mottled with other earthy tones.

The morning sun star can have anywhere from eight to 16 arms and has a wide range. Sometimes, these creatures reside in Alaska or Japan. Interestingly, this marine invertebrate will eat members of its species.

Necklace Star

a necklace starfish

Scientific Name: Fromia monilis
Distribution: Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean
Average Size: 12 in

The necklace star almost always has five arms and gets its name from its strange colors. This starfish has red tips on its center and the tips of its limbs.

However, the middle portion of its limbs is tinged with pale yellow and pink, making it look like a necklace, giving the creature its name.

The necklace star has a wide range and can be seen in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean, near Australia and Japan.

You may spot these starfish eating sea sponges and smaller invertebrates on the ocean floor. The necklace star is a perfect candidate for aquariums or tanks because they will eat algae from the surface of coral reefs and decor.

Sunflower Sea Star

sunflower sea star kelp forest habitat

Scientific Name: Pycnopodia helianthoides
Distribution: Northeast Pacific Ocean
Average Size: 3.3 ft

The sunflower sea star is a unique starfish because of its bulbous and large body and the number of arms it has at any time.

While young, the sunflower sea star may only have five limbs. When this creature hits maturity, it can have as many as 24 arms.

The sunflower sea star is an endangered species that feed on other invertebrates and wildlife nearby. A significant portion of a sunflower sea star’s diet consists of clams, sea urchins, and snails.

When in a location with plenty of food and few predators, this sea star can live anywhere from 20 to 65 years, making it a perfect lifelong companion for a reef tank or aquarium wanting to show off the wonders of the ocean.

Pacific Blood Star 

a pacific blood star on kelp

Scientific Name: Henricia leviuscula
Distribution: Pacific North American Coast
Average Size: 12 in

The Pacific blood star is among one the many unique starfish in the ocean.

These starfish don’t have many predators, meaning there are many of them alive in the ocean today, and the only predators these creatures have are humans and birds who swoop them up.

Most of these starfish will stay close to the ocean floor, away from predators at the ocean’s surface. Pacific blood stars can be found as far down as 1,300 feet.

You can spot one of these starfish by its bright orange or red color. However, some of these starfish types can look purple in the right lighting. Typically, these starfish will have anywhere from four to six arms.

Blue Sea Star

a blue sea star sitting on coral

Scientific Name: Linckia laevigata
Distribution: Indo-Pacific Waters
Average Size: 12 in

Blue sea stars get their name from their very obvious coloration. No other sea star has a vibrant blue color like the blue sea star.

However, this sea star can come in other shades of purple and may even be orange sometimes.

This creature prefers shallow waters and will only eat at night since it’s a nocturnal creature. Most blue sea stars feed on algae, microorganisms, and food scraps left by other marine life.

You may easily spot a blue sea star in a zoo, home tank, or aquarium since these creatures are popular choices due to their color. Blue sea stars can live up to 35 years, making them a perfect companion to a home tank.

Pink Sea Star

scavenging pink sea star species hunt their prey

Scientific Name: Pisaster brevispinus
Distribution: Pacific North American Coast
Average Size: 25 in

The pink sea star is the most famous of all starfish in the ocean, most notably being depicted on kid’s shows and television.

This starfish is most likely to be seen since it resides toward the surface of the water and won’t be found any deeper than 360 feet in the ocean. Pink sea stars enjoy muddy or sandy areas and enjoy open spaces.

You may spot one floating in the open ocean while out boating.

Pink sea stars have five arms and a robust diet consisting of sand dollars, clams, mussels, and polychaetes.

These creatures will dig around in sediment to grab and suck up prey, too. However, birds and otters will gladly snatch a pink sea star up for a meal.

Granulated Sea Star

a granulated sea star on coral

Scientific Name: Choriaster granulatus
Distribution: Indo-West Pacific
Average Size: 10 in

The granulated sea star is among the strangest-looking starfish in the sea. This creature is thick and robust, making it easy to spot on the ocean floor.

This starfish has five short and stocky arms and a large center. Usually, a granulated sea star has a pink tinge and small brown spots all over its body.

Although stocky, this starfish is nowhere as large as some of its cousins and can easily blend in with vibrant coral reefs and sediment.

Granulated sea stars can often be seen eating dead creatures, algae, and other items lingering nearby, including small invertebrates and coral.

Granulated sea stars are among the easiest starfish to spot because they enjoy coral reefs the most, making them easy for divers and other ocean lovers to see.

Royal Starfish

a royal starfish on the shore

Scientific Name: Astropecten articulatus
Distribution: Western Atlantic Ocean
Average Size: 8 in

The royal starfish derives its name from its stunning color. This starfish has a purple tone that can vary and an orange outline that accentuates the creature’s appearance.

The royal starfish eats more than its starfish cousins and will need to almost always scavenge for food. This starfish is carnivorous and will eat mollusks and clams that it catches using its arms.

Interestingly, this starfish swallows its prey whole and allows its stomach to digest the creature alive. These starfish can live up to 35 years if they aren’t interrupted by a predator or other danger.

Panamic Cushion Star

a panamic cushion star on the shore of a beach

Scientific Name: Pentaceraster cumingi
Distribution: East Pacific
Average Size: 12 in

The panamic cushion star prefers warm, tropical environments with rocky terrain. You’re likely to find this creature in a shallow location with plenty of places to hide.

Panamic cushion stars will feed on other sea creatures, including other starfish, algae, and microorganisms.

Panamic cushion stars are often seen in gift shops after being dehydrated to become souvenirs for travelers and tourists in Mexico and Peru.

This starfish has fringes and spikes all over its body that help it move and keep itself protected.

The panamic cushion star can come in many colors but usually have a dark base tone and many orange dots all over its body. However, some of these colors are darker and lighter depending on the star.

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish

a crown of thorns starfish

Scientific Name: Acanthaster planci
Distribution: Indo-Pacific Waters
Average Size: 18 in

The crown-of-thorns starfish is among the strangest marine creatures on the planet. This starfish is named after the biblical crown of thorns placed upon Jesus’ head during the New Testament because of the many spikes lining this creature’s body.

You can find the crown-of-thorns starfish on reefs, most notably the Central Great Barrier Reef. This creature prefers shallow locations where it has plenty of food nearby and hiding spots, although it’s large.

The appearance of the crown-of-thorns starfish in multiple reefs in the Samoa area since these creatures enjoy eating live coral and have caused chaos to the coral population in the area.

The crown-of-thorns starfish can eat anywhere between six to ten square meters of coral reef in only one year.

Northern Pacific Sea Star

northern pacific sea star asterias amurensis throughout waters

Scientific Name: Asterias amurensis
Distribution: North-Western Pacific Ocean; Coastal Waters
Average Size: 20 in

The northern Pacific sea star is one of the largest sea stars in the ocean but can spell disaster for local wildlife.

These sea stars have a nearly insatiable diet and will happily eat all the shellfish New Zealand has to offer. These creatures can also disrupt the aquaculture business in the area because they will stick to fishing nets, crates, and other tools.

The northern Pacific sea star typically has only five arms that point upward at the ends. These marine creatures are usually yellow or orange with some purple lines and markings to set them apart.

However, some of these creatures may not have any purple markings on their body at all, making them harder to spot.

Chocolate Chip Starfish

a group of chocolate chip starfish on the sea floor

Scientific Name: Protoreaster nodosus
Distribution: Indo-Pacific Waters
Average Size: 12 in

The chocolate chip starfish is an adorable marine creature that can come in many colors. However, the most common base color for the chocolate chip starfish is white or beige, although some can be red.

These starfish also have black or brown spike or lumps on the top, making them look like chocolate chip cookies.

The chocolate chip starfish is also known as the horned sea star because of the spikes it sports at its center, which stand up tall and make it dangerous to handle. Many of these creatures are dried and sold as souvenirs and home decor.

Chocolate chip starfish prefer sandy locations or areas with mid to hide among. These creatures will also require a location with plenty of coral reefs to hide among.

Antarctic Sun Starfish

Scientific Name: Labidiaster annulatus
Distribution: Antarctica
Average Size: 24 in

The Antarctic sun starfish looks more like an alien than it does a sea star. This creature can have up to 45 spindly arms that can reach out and grab things.

The center of the body is bulbous and wide, and the body can sport a wide variety of colors, including beige, black, and white.

Although this starfish can travel as far down as 1,800 feet, they are frequently seen in waters as shallow as 98 feet. Additionally, these creatures prefer areas rife with sand and mud to rest on.

They will also rest among gravel or rocks present in the area. As a scavenger, you may find these creatures eating krill or amphipods they come across or the carcasses of dead animals.

Red Knob Sea Star

a red knob sea star on coral

Scientific Name: Protoreasrer linckii
Distribution: Indian Ocean
Average Size: 12 in

The red knob sea star is a strange and mythical-looking marine creature that has white all over its body with red lines connecting spikes.

This creature can sometimes have small, thin red lines or thick lines that make the creature look like it doesn’t have much white on its body.

Many of these creatures are dried and sold or traded in Africa, which contributes to the endangerment and dying out of this species.

This starfish is so rare because it only resides in the Indian Ocean, unlike its starfish cousins, who have a much larger range of residence.

Red knob sea stars will eat nearly any creature they can get in their mouth and will indulge in their carnivorous nature when feeding.

Giant Spined Star

a giant spined starfish on coral

Scientific Name: Pisaster giganteus
Distribution: Western North American Coast
Average Size: 24 in

The giant spined star typically has five arms and sticks to shallow waters. You can find this sea star along North America’s western coast.

These creatures can come in many colors, including yellow, brown, purple, and orange, making them challenging to identify.

You may notice some of these sea stars have lesions since they are prone to sea star wasting disease, making the population dwindle.

These sea stars are characterized by many little dots that can make them look almost like stars in the night sky. These sea stars prefer low tidal areas and can be spotted on the shore or beach during the day on the sand.

Leather Star

a leather starfish laying on coral

Scientific Name: Dermasterias imbricata
Distribution: Western North American Coast
Average Size: 12 in

The leather star is a cute starfish known for its white and orange mottled look. However, these starfish are more interesting for the smell they produce than their unique coloration.

These starfish produce a strange, garlic-like smell that can be similar to leather. The leather star only makes this smell when they reproduce, making them easy to spot and identify.

Leather stars like to stay several hundred feet below the water’s surface, thankfully. These creatures can stay about 330 feet below the surface of the water, making them – and their pungent odor – easy to avoid.

Pincushion Starfish

a pincushion starfish

Scientific Name: Culcita novaeguineae
Distribution: Indian and Pacific Oceans
Average Size: 12 in

The pincushion starfish is unlike any other starfish because of its bulbous shape. This starfish can be found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as far as Madagascar and the Phillippines.

Pincushion starfish can come in a wide range of colors, including orange, purple, white, black, and red. These starfish don’t have arms but instead lumps that extend slightly outward.

Pincushion starfish are famous for the many dots that line their bodies, making them look like a pincushion full of pins pushed into them.

Bat Sea Star

a bat sea starfish

Scientific Name: Patiria miniata
Distribution: Pacific Ocean
Average Size: 7 in

The bat sea star is famous for its dark color and five arms, although these sea stars can be of many colors, including red, brown, purple, and pink.

Unlike other sea stars, the bat sea star has a larger center and body that make it look like a bat in the sea.

The bat sea star will gladly eat worms and algae in its environment. These creatures may also feed on other seat stars and dead animals.

You may find bat sea stars most on rocky environments, sandy shores, and seagrass at the bottom of the ocean.

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