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Invertebrate Animals that lack a back-bone (vertebrae).  


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Multi-celled animals (Metazoa)

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Sea stars - Valvatida - Klappensterne (Seesterne)

5 pages with photos of echinoderms

Feather Stars
Feather Stars and Sea Lilies - Haar- oder Federsterne:  Comaster, Comanthina, Comatella, Oxycomanthus, Dichrometra, Lamprometra, Colobometra, Cenometra, Oligometra, Pontiometra, Himerometra, Zygometra, Reometra. Also animals living with featherstars (shwimps, crabs, squids, fish)

Sea stars or starfish  (Echinoderms like Valvatida, Comb Sea Star, Spinulosida, Forcipulatida) - Seesterne (Stachelhäuter wie Klappensterne, Walzensterne, Kammsterne, Stachelsterne, Zangensterne)

Brittle Stars
Serpent Stars (Echinoderms, Ophiurida) - Schlangensternen (Stachelhäuter). Species on this page: Ophiothela, Ophiothrix, Amphiura, Ophiomastix, Ophiarachna

Sea Urchins
sea urchins (Echinoderms) - Seeigel (Stachelhäuter) - Species on this page: Astropyga, Diadema, Echinothrix, Mespilia, Salmacis, Lytechinus, Asthenosoma,  Toxopneustes, Maretia, Eurypatagus, Clypeaster, Eucidaris, Prionocidaris, Echinostrephus, Echinometra
Sea Cucumbers
Sea Cucumbers - Holothuroidea - Seewalzen: Species on this page: Synaptula, Opheodesoma, Euapta, Holothuria, Bohadschia, Stichopus, Stichopus, Thelenota, Pentacta, Pseudocolochirus, Neothyonidium
Shrimps on Echinoderms
Commensal Shrimps - Partnergarnelen / Palaemonidae - Alpheidae Species on this page: Periclimenes, Dasycaris, Hamodactylus, Pontonides,  Pontonides, Vir, Apopontonia, Stegopontonia, Palaemon, Leander, Urocaridella




There are 5 related classes in the phylum Echinodermata (the Latin name means "spiny-skinned"). For a detailed list with all classifications click here:

Characteristics of Echinoderms

Echinoderms are characterized by radial symmetry, several arms (5 or more, mostly grouped 2 left - 1 middle - 2 right) radiating from a central body (= pentamerous). The body actually consists of five equal segments, each containing a duplicate set of various internal organs. They have no heart, brain, nor eyes, but some brittle stars seem to have light sensitive parts on their arms. Their mouth is situated on the underside and their anus on top (except feather stars, sea cucumbers and some urchins).

Echinoderms have tentacle-like structures called tube feet with suction pads situated at their extremities. These tube feet are hydraulically controlled by a remarkable vascular system. This system supplies water through canals of small muscular tubes to the tube feet (= ambulacral feet). As the tube feet press against a moving object, water is withdrawn from them, resulting in a suction effect. When water returns to the canals, suction is released. The resulting locomotion is generally very slow.

Ecology and range of Echinoderms

Echinoderms are exclusively marine. They occur in various habitats from the intertidal zone down to the bottom of the deep sea trenches and from sand to rubble to coral reefs and in cold and tropical seas.



Behavior of Echinoderms

Some echinoderms are carnivorous (for example starfish) others are detritus foragers (for example some sea cucumbers) or planktonic feeders (for example basket stars).

Reproduction is carried out by the release of sperm and eggs into the water. Most species produce pelagic (= free floating) planktonic larvae which feed on plankton. These larvae are bilaterally symmetrical, unlike their parents (illustration of a larvae of a sea star below). When they settle to the bottom they change to the typical echinoderm features.

Larvae of a starfish

Echinoderms can regenerate missing limbs, arms, spines - even intestines (for example sea cucumbers). Some brittle stars and sea stars can reproduce asexually by breaking a ray or arm or by deliberately splitting the body in half. Each half then becomes a whole new animal.

Echinoderms are protected through their spiny skins and spines. But they are still preyed upon by shells (like the triton shell), some fish (like the trigger fish), crabs and shrimps and by other echinoderms like starfish which are carnivorous. Many echinoderms only show themselves at night (= nocturnal), therefore reducing the threat from the day time predators.

Echinoderms serve as hosts to a large variety of symbiotic organisms including shrimps, crabs, worms, snails and even fishes.

Sea stars (starfish)



Characteristics of sea stars (or starfish)

Sea stars are characterized by radial symmetry, several arms (5 or multiplied by 5) radiating from a central body. Mouth and anus are close together on the underside, the anus is at the center of the disc together with the water intake (madreporite). The upper surface is often very colorful. Minute pincer-like structures called pedicellaria are present. These structures ensure that the surface of the arms stay free from algae. The underside is often a lighter color.

There are a few starfish that have 6 or 7 arms, for example Echinaster luzonicus or Protoreaster, some even more like the elven-armed sea star (Coscinasterias calamaria). Others normally have 5 arms but now have more arms, because after an injury an arm divided and grew into two arms.

Ecology and range or sea stars

The starfish lives everywhere in the coral reef and on sand or rocks.

Behavior of sea stars

The ability of an organism to grow a body part that has been lost

The spontaneous self amputation of an appendage when the organism is injured or under attack. The autotomized part is usually regenerated.

Is asexual reproduction in which an outgrowth on the parent organism breaks off to form a new individual

Self-division into two parts, each of which then becomes a separate and independent organisms (asexual reproduction)



The majority of sea stars are carnivorous and feed on sponges, bryozoans, ascidians and molluscs. Other starfishes are detritus feeders (detritus = organically enriched film that covers rocks) or scavengers. Some starfish are specialized feeders, for example the crown-of-thorns that feeds on life coral polyps.

Starfish have no hard mouth parts to help them capture prey. The stomach is extruded over the prey, thus surrounding the soft parts with the digestive organs. Digestive juices are secreted and the tissue of the prey liquefied. The digested food mass, together with the stomach is then sucked back in. This method can be observed, if you turn around a starfish, that sits on prey or sand - you will see the stomach retreating.

Starfish are well known for their powers of regeneration. A complete new animal can grow from a small fragment such as a arm. In some species (Linckia multifora and Echinaster luzonicus) one of the arms will virtually pull itself away, regenerates and forms a new animal. Autotomy (self amputation) usually is a protective function, losing the body part to escape a predator rather than being eaten. But here it serves as a form of asexual reproduction. In other species of sea stars (Allostichaster polyplax and Coscinasterias calamaria) the body is broken into unequal parts (= fission) then the missing limbs regenerate.

Predators of starfishes

Tritonshorn - Charonia tritonis

Harlequin Shrimp - Hymenocera elegans - Harlekingarnele

Harlequin Shrimp - Hymenocera elegans

coral crab - Trapezia sp


Harlequin Shrimps eating a starfish - Hymenocera elegans - Harlekingarnelen fressen einen Seestern



Harlequin Shrimps eating a starfish - Hymenocera elegans - Harlekingarnelen fressen einen Seestern

Harlequin Shrimp is carrying a sea star - Hymenocera elegans


Harlequin Shrimps eating a starfish - Hymenocera elegans - Harlekingarnelen fressen einen Seestern


Harlequin Shrimp - Hymenocera elegans - Harlekingarnele



Harlequin Shrimps eating a starfish - Hymenocera elegans - Harlekingarnelen fressen einen Seestern


Harlequin Shrimp - Hymenocera elegans - Harlekingarnele

The crown-of-thorns (Acanthaster planci) is one of the largest and the most venomous starfishes. It can reach 50 cm diameter and has numerous (10 to 20) spiny arms with formidable thorn like toxic spines. Don't touch them! A species of small cardinalfishes (Siphamia fuscolineata) and a commersal shrimp (Perliclimenes soror) live among those spines. The crown-of-thorns feed on live coral polyps. They "graze" the corals which are left behind white and dead. Their predators are the giant triton shell (Charonia tritonis) and some puffer fish. Scientist have also found out, that some crown of thorns are deterred from eating the coral polyps by the small crabs living among the coral branches (Trapezia sp). These crabs defend their coral host by breaking them off at the pedicellaria. Other small crabs (Tetralia sp) only pinch the tube feets of the starfish. Crown of thorns prefer corals, that are not hosts to these crabs.

The cushion star (Culcita nouvaeguineae) doesn't look like a starfish at all, more like a large sea urchin without spines. Its pentagonal appearance gives only the slightest indication that this organism is related to other starfish.

Photos of sea stars (photo collection) click for enlargement

Crown-of-thorns Starfish - Acanthaster planci - Dornenkronen Seestern

Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci)


cushion star - Kissenstern

Spiny Cushion Starfish - Halityle regularis


Necklace Sea Star - Fromia monilis


Starfish / sea star (Nardoa variolata)

Starfish / sea star (Nardoa variolata)

Horned Sea Star - Protoreaster nodosus


Egyptian Sea Star - Gomophia egyptiaca


Thyca crystallina on starfish (Linckia laevigata)

Thyca crystallina - this snail lives on sea stars

Commensal Shrimps - Periclimenes - Partnergarnelen

Starfish Shrimp - Periclimenes soror


Commensal Shrimps - Periclimenes - Partnergarnelen

Zenopontonia noverca - Starfish Shrimp

Regeneration of an arm: Luzon Sea Star- Echinaster luzonicus

Commensal Shrimps - Periclimenes - Partnergarnelen

Starfish Shrimp - Periclimenes soror

Comb Jelly on Starfish - Coeloplana astericola


Feather stars



Characteristics of feather stars

Feather stars also known as crinoids. They are characterized by radial symmetry. The body of a typical feather star is cup-shaped, their numerous feathery arms project from a central disc. Some have five arms, others as many as 200. The arms, called pinnules are coated with a sticky substance that helps to catch food. There are appendages known as cirri attached to the underside of the body with which they cling to to sponges or corals. Both their mouth and their anus are situated on the upper side.

Ecology and range of feather stars

Feather stars are primarily nocturnal but they are seen in the open during the day with their arms rolled up.

Behavior of feather stars

Feather stars can crawl, roll, walk and even swim but usually they cling to sponges or corals. Feather stars are very abundant in areas exposed to periodic strong currents, because they feed on plaktonic food.



Numerous animals live in close association with feather stars. Echinoderms are hosts to various symbiotic animals such as the crinoid clingfish (Discotrema crinophila), the elegant squat lobster (Allogalathea elegans) or the crinoid shrimp (Periclimenes sp.). These animals receive shelter and food (left over) and also feed on microorganisms living on feather stars.

Photos of feather stars (photo collection) click for enlargement

Feather star (Stephanometra

Feather star (Stephanometra sp.) - gallery


Feather star (Lamprometra sp) half open, holding on to sponge with its cirri (appendages)

Rolled up feather star (Himerometra robustipinna) by day


Central body of a feather star with mouth and anus


Pinnules of a feather star (Pontiometra) coated to help catch

Pinnules of a feather star (Pontiometra) coated to help catch food

Crionid Clingfish - <em>Discotrema crinophila</em> - Haarstern-Schildbauch

Discotrema crinophila

Commensal Shrimps - Periclimenes - Partnergarnelen

Pontoniopsis comanthi - Comanthus shrimp

Commensal Shrimps - Periclimenes - Partnergarnelen

Laomenes sp8 - Ffeather star shrimp


Crionid Alpheid Shrimp inside a feather star - Synalpheus stimpsoni - Haarstern Knallkrebs im Innern eines Federsternes

Synalpheus stimpsoni

Elegant Squat Lobster - Allogalathea elegans - Eleganter Federstern-Springkrebs

Allogalathea elegans

Long-snout Urchin Clingfish - <em>Diademichthys lineatus</em> - Seeigel-Schildbauch

Diademichthys lineatus - Clingfish

Myzostomid Worms - Myzostomidae - Myzostomid Würmer

Myzostoma sp - worm living on feather stars

Brittle stars



Basket star

(Astroboa nuda)



Characteristics of brittle stars

Brittle stars are close relatives of sea stars. Characterized by radial symmetry with a central body from which five snakelike arms protrude. The arms are highly flexible. There is no replication of internal organs, just one set in the central disk. Compared to starfish, brittle stars have a much smaller central disc and no anus. Wastes are eliminated through the mouth which is situated on the underside center.

On the underside of the body disk there is a splitlike opening at the base of each side of each arm. These ten openings are breathing and reproductive outlets, taking in water for oxygen and shedding eggs or sperm into the sea.

The basket stars are a specialized type of brittle stars. They have a series of complexly branched arms which are used to catch plankton.

Serpent stars are seen coiled snakelike around branches of gorgonians.

Ecology and range of brittle stars

Brittle stars are very cryptic and hide in crevices under corals. Best seen at night time, when they emerge to feed on plankton. Usually at places exposed to strong currents.

Serpent stars feed mostly on small invertebrates like mollusks, worms and crustaceans and are generally found in crevices and beneath rocks or in holes in the sand.

Snake stars (for example Ophiothela danae) are found entwined in the branches of black corals or gorgonians where they feed on the rich mucus of their host, in turn performing cleaning functions.

Behavior of brittle stars

As the name suggests, the arms of the brittle stars are rather liable to break. This is actually an escape mechanism. Those arms regenerate quickly and an entire new organism can regenerate, if the broken arm is attached to a seizable portion of the disk. Brittle stars can reproduce asexually by self-division. Brittle stars are the most active and fastest moving echinoderms.

Brittle stars feed on plankton but also on detritus, coral-shed mucus, bottom detritus (detritus = organically enriched film that covers rocks), mollusks and worms.

Photos of brittle stars (photo collection) click for enlargement

coral with brittle stars - Koralle mit Haarsternen

Brittle Star - Ophiothela sp

coral with brittle stars - Koralle mit Haarsternen

Many snake stars (Ophiothela danae) on gorgonian

Martens Brittle Star - Ophiothrix martensi - Martens Schlangenstern

Ophiothrix martensi - Martens brittle star


INFO - Serpent star (Ophiarachna incrassata)

Erna's basket star (Astroboa ernae)

Erna's basket star (Astroboa ernae)


Six-Arm Brittle Star - Ophiothela danae - Schlangenstern

Ophiothela danae - brittle star

Commensal Shrimps - Periclimenes - Partnergarnelen

Periclimenes lanipes - Basket Star Shrimp
Copyright Johanna Gawron

Commensal Shrimps - Periclimenes - Partnergarnelen

Periclimenes lanipes - Basket Star ShrimpGarnele

basket star (Astroglymma sculptum)

Sea urchin






Characteristics of sea urchins

Radial symmetrical body with a external chitinous skeleton and a centrally located jaw (called Aristotle's lantern) with horny teeth. The mouth consists of a complex arrangement of muscles and plates surrounding the circular opening. The anus is located on the upper surface. Some sea urchins have a spherical, bulb like cloaca (to store fecal material) that protrudes from the anal opening. It can be withdrawn into the shell.

Depending on the species, movable spines of various sizes and forms are attached to the body. These spines often are sharp, pointed and in some cases even venomous. Pincer like pedicellaria for grabbing small prey. Some pedicellaria are also poisonous.

Ecology and range of sea urchins

Rubble and sand. An abundance of sea urchins can be a sign for bad water conditions.

Behavior of sea urchins

Locomotion by tube feet but also by movement of the spines on the underside of the body. Sea urchins are generally nocturnal, during the day they hide in crevices. However some sea urchins such as Diadema sometimes form large aggregations in open exposed areas. Despite their sharp spines sea urchins are easy game for some fishes, particularly triggerfishes and puffers. A triggerfish grabs the sea urchin with its hard beak like mouth by the spines or it blows some water towards the sea urchin and turns it on its back. The underside of a sea urchin has much shorter spines and those are easily crushed. During the breeding season the body cavity is crammed with eggs or sperms. This is one of the main reasons urchins are so attractive to fish predators (Japanese also like them for the same reason).



Some sea urchins are camouflaged. They hold on with their tube feet onto some bottom debris like rubble or pieces of seagrass and carry them on their back. Some even carry live soft corals or anemones.

Most sea urchins are algal grazers but some feed on sponges, bryozonans and ascidians and others on detritus (detritus = organically enriched film that covers rocks).

The sexes are separate and the young are formed indirectly by the fusion of sperm and eggs released into the water.

Sea urchin cardinalfish

(Siphamia versicolor)


Aeoliscus strigatus - Centriscidae)

Sea urchin shrimp

(Stegopontonia commensalis)

Mandarinfish, dragonet
(Synchiropus splendidus)

Many animals live in symbiotic relation with sea urchins. Even on the poisonous spines of the fire urchin (Asthenosoma varium) small shrimps (Periclimenes colemani) can be found. One shrimp (Stegopontonia commensalis) is striped black and white lengthwise and perfectly camouflaged and lives in spines of the long-spined sea urchin (Diadema setosum). Some cardinalfishes and juvenile shrimpfishes also like to take shelter in-between these spines, but even small cuttlefish hide there. It has been observed, that they change their coloring also to black and white. Some flatworms wrap around the thicker spines of the diadema sea urchin (Echinothrix calamaris).

hidden razor fish            Garnele versteckt sich zwischen Stacheln

The mandarin dragonet (Mandarinfish) lives close to congregations of sea urchins and hides among them if threatened.

There are two specialized types of sea urchins with an unusual appearance: the sand dollar is very much flattened with very small spines and the heart urchin which are oval and have bristle like spines. The both bury in sand. The heart urchin "jumps" out of the sand, when disturbed.

Photos of sea urchins (photo collection) click for enlargement

Heart Sea Urchin - Maretia planulata


Sea urchin (Prionocidaris

Sea urchin (Prionocidaris verticillata)


Sea urchin (Astropyga

Sea urchin (Astropyga radiata)


Sea Urchin - Diadema setosum

Toxic sea urchin (Asthenosoma pileolus)


Matha's sea urchin (Echinometra mathaei)

Matha's sea urchin (Echinometra mathaei)

Zebracrab (Zebrida adamsii) on sea urchin

shrimp (Stegopontonia commensalis)


Coleman shrimp (Periclimenes colemani)

Comb yellies on seeurchin - Coeloplana sp

Shrimpfish (Aeoliscus strigatus)


Urchin clingfish - Diademichthys lineatus



zwei Seewalzen



Characteristics of sea cucumbers

Unlike other echinoderms, holothurians don't have a distinct radial symmetry but are bilateral (distinct dorsal and ventral side). Holothurians are also called sea cucumbers. As their name suggests, they are cucumber shaped with an elongated, muscular, flexible body with a mouth at one end and the anus at the other. Around the mouth there is a number of tentacles (modified tube feet) used in food collecting. Sea cucumbers come in many sizes, from small species only a few centimeter in length to long snakelike animals which may stretch up to 2 meter!

Ecology and range of sea cucumbers

Rubble, rocks and sand. Also seen on some sponges in large aggregations.

Behavior of sea cucumbers

Most species feed on the rich organic film coating sandy surfaces. The crawl over the bottom ingesting sand. The edible particles (organic matter such as plankton, foraminifera and bacteria) are extracted when passing through their digestive tract and the processed sand is expelled from the anus (as worm-like excrements).

Sea cucumbers move by means of tube feet which extend in rows from the underside of the body. The tentacles surrounding the mouth are actually tube feet that have been modified for feeding.

Other holothurians feed on current-borne zooplankton. They bury in sand extruding their featherlike tentacles (Pseudocolochirus violaceus, Neothyondium magnum or Pentacta crassa). The tentacles have the same shape as soft corals or some anenemones. Large congregations of some small species are found on sponges. They apparently feed on substances secreted by the sponges as well as detritus from the surface.

Some species of holothurians have separate sexes others are hermaphrodites. The sea cucumbers hold on to exposed rocks or corals, raise their body to a upright position, rock back and forth and release the sperm and eggs into the sea.


Sea cucumbers have a remarkable capacity for regenerating their body parts. When attacked they shed a sticky thread like structure which is actually parts of their guts. The so called Cuverian threads are toxic (the poison is called holothurin) and can dissuade many potential predators. These structures quickly regenerate. (see photos below)



Encheliophis homei and mourlani / Onuxodon margaritiferae


Holothurians host a variety of symbiotic organisms: crabs, shrimps, worms and even a very unusual fish. The pearlfish (Encheliophis homei and mourlani / Onuxodon margaritiferae) has a long slender, transparent body and lives in the gut cavity of the sea cucumber (Boshida argus, Thelanota ananas, Stichopus chloronotus). They also inhabit some starfish as well as pearl oyster shells. The fish leaves and enters (tail first) through the holothurian's anus. They probably feed on the gonads and other tissues of its host. It is said to leave at night to feed on small fishes and shrimps. Sea cucumbers are used in Asia as a base for soups.

Photos of sea cucumbers (photo collection) click for enlargement

Sea cucumber (Bohadschia argus) with Cuiverian threads

Sea cucumber (Bohadschia argus) with Cuiverian threads


INFO - Emperor Shrimp on Sea Cucumber - Periclimenes imperator on Opheodesoma australiensis

Black Sea Cucumber - Holothuria atra



Pineapple sea cucumber (Thelenota ananas)

Pineapple sea cucumber (Thelenota ananas)


INFO - Sea Cucumber - Synaptula media


Sea Cucumber details tentacles (Synapta maculata)


Sea cucumber skin (Thelenota

Sea cucumber skin (Thelenota rubrolineata)

Horrid Sea Cucumber - Stichopus horrens

Squat Lobsters - Galatheidae - Springkrebse

Galathea sp1 - crab living on sea cucumbers



Imperator shrimp on sea cucumber - Periclimenes imperator auf Opheodesoma australiensis

Swimmer Crab on sea cucumber - Lissocarcinus orbicularis - Schwimmkrabbe auf Seewalze

Lissocarcinus orbicularis - true crab

Top - End   Feather stars - starfish - brittle stars - sea urchins - holothurians (sea cucumbers)

iindex - Coral reefs - The ocean - Reefs at risk - Major endangered reef regions (hotspots) - photo collection - starfish site map


. Copyright Teresa Zubi