Feather star

Feather Stars

Latin name: Antedon bifida
Global Distribution: North-East Europe, also Algeria, Tunisia, West Africa and Venezuela
UK Distribution: Most of Britain and Ireland but is apparently absent from the southern part of the east coast of England
Size: up to 15cm across
Diet: Suspension feeder, catching detritus and plankton
Habitat: Coastal species – low tide mark to a depth of about 200 m
Sources: Naylor, P., 2005. Great British Marine Animals. 2nd ed. Cornwall: Sound Diving Publications, pp. 192.

A surprisingly exotic animal that frequents the shores of the British coast, the feather star is classified as an Echinoderm, sharing traits with animals such as starfish, sea urchins and even sea cucumbers! Feather stars display a wide variety of colours and get their unique look from a set of 5 pairs of highly dexterous arms that are long, spindly and exhibit the characteristic feathery look. Their distinctive arms allow them to filter the water for food – a process known as suspension feeding – and tiny tube feet located along the arms catch small particles in the water and pass them along to the mouth. Unlike other starfish, feather star mouths are located upon the top side of their body.

Feather stars are usually located in areas with a strong current in order to gain easy access to as many floating food particles as possible. To help them survive in these harsh conditions, they have up to 25 claw-like appendages, called cirri, clustered under the middle of their arms which they use to cling on to the Seafloor. Feather stars also have a highly functional role to play within the marine ecosystem. Their unique shape and structure helps to enhance the structural complexity of the seafloor. Complex areas are extremely important as they can provide refuge from predation and from difficult environmental conditions (strong currents and tides) for many species; including commercially important ones such as juvenile cod and juvenile scallops.

Fun facts

  • They are sometimes parasitised by the marine worm, Myzostoma cirriferum.
  • They spawn at a particular time of year, yet they keep their reproductive organs maintained throughout the year to persuade predators, such as the corkwing wrasse, to consume these energy rich organs, rather than more vital parts of the body.