Meet the amazing sea star

Sea stars can regenerate their limbs. Here's what else is neat about them.

July 25, 2019 

Most people know what a starfish looks like. Think Patrick Star from “SpongeBob SquarePants” and Peach from “Finding Nemo.” It turns out you can find them on our beaches here in North Carolina. Both Patrick and Peach have five arms, but some sea stars can have up to 24 arms. Unlike Patrick, real sea stars don’t walk on their arms. Instead, they use little tube feet that are located on the bottom of the sea star. These tiny tube feet have suction cups that can stick to rocks and other surfaces, so sea stars don’t get swept away by the tides. The mouth of the sea star is also located on the bottom just like Peach.

The top of the sea star is rugged because it's covered with rough skin and pedicellariae. Pedicellariae are little pinchers on top of the sea star that clean the surface. Sea stars don’t have eyes like Patrick or Peach. Real sea stars have eyespots at the end of each arm that can only sense changes in light and dark. Sea stars can also replace a missing arm. Regeneration allows sea stars to regrow their arms if something were to happen to them; although, full regeneration can take up to a year.

But here’s the real question: Is it sea star or starfish? In a recent article, North Carolina Sea Grant says it can be both. Scientist mostly say sea star since they don’t swim or have scales. Nicknames for the sea star, such as starfish, change depending on the region and state. The coolest thing about sea stars, by far, is we can find them in North Carolina. You might find them washed up on the beaches of Nag’s Head or Corolla. If you want hands-on time with sea stars, try the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Our famous friends can be found in the touch-tanks where you can feel them and learn even more.

—Zachary O. Perry 

 Zachary Perry is a writing intern for the Sci NC team, and a senior at UNC Wilmington studying professional writing.