Monday, June 22, 2009

Creature Feature: Monster Starfish from Japan!! Plazaster borealis-the Tako Hitode!

Today, another reason why I LOVE the Internet.

Japanese starfish monsters are sometimes REAL!

So, the other day...while looking for something completely else...I ran across some amazing pictures of a species that has almost NEVER been documented in taxonomic monographs!

This beast? This bizarro shallow-water/subtidal (~20 m depth) species is called Plazaster borealis.

The Japanese, however, seem to have developed a more appropriate name:
タコ ヒトデ
tako hitode
The first two characters starting at the left, stand for tako (which means octopus) and the last three characters stand for hitode (which means starfish). So, this translates to "Octopus Starfish"
So, what DO we know about it? very little.
  • It apparently lives in the northern-temperate part of Japan. Northern Honshu to Hokkaido.
  • It feeds on sea urchins (according to this) and similar to other predatory asteroids, it scares them off (here) and according to other sources-clams and fish. (these latter reports are unverified)
  • Its BIG. (about 1 to 1.5 feet across!)
(from this webpage which I barely understand)

A full transcription of the original paper by Walter K. Fisher which describes Plazaster can be found here.

Long story short-the original species was described by Dr. Toru Uchida in 1928 who thought it was one of these:
The genus Labidiaster from the Antarctic/Southern Hemisphere. And who can blame him?

No evidence that Plazaster feeds the same way that Labidiaster does..but its life/feeding history is practically unknown...

Walter differentiated the species from Labidiaster and put it into its own unique taxon and thus Plazaster was born!

I'll give credit to Walter K. Fisher's scholarship here. I looked through all of my Latin/Greek dictionaries and I couldn't find what the frak "Plaz-" in Plazaster means!

And Something to think about...

In the northern-temperate band in Japan we have Plazaster....
and on the OTHER side of the Pacific we have Pycnopodia
(thanks to Allison Gong for this pic)

Thanks to Cheryl A. (NMFS) for helping with translations from Japanese!

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