Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Because Brisingid Starfish are Fantastic! Stunning Images of Brisingids in the Deep!

This image from NOAA Photo Library. Here. 
Brisingid starfishes were my first professional "love".. I wrote my Masters thesis on them and it was almost 2 years after studying specimens like this...
Before I saw one that was alive!  Now, THAT is dedication for you! 

What are brisingid starfish?? Long story short... Strange deep-sea starfish. They are proper, albeit highly modified sea stars that use their spines, covered with tiny claws which act as velcro to capture tiny prey as food.
This is Novodinia. Photo form NOAA Okeanos Explorer

I was just noticing that there's been a great critical mass of REALLY wonderful pictures of these animals.

For example, here's an amazing close up shot of Novodinia, possibly N. americana from the R/V Okeanos Explorer cruise to the North Atlantic canyons in 2013.  What you're seeing is the disk at the center, surrounded by the many spines covering each of its arms...
This image originally from NOAA Photo Library here. 
shots like these are increasingly common..but trust me when I say that scientists from the mid late 20th Century would have KILLED to have nice high definition picture like this!
Another Pic of Novodinia americana? from 2013. NOAA Photo Library. 
And here was one AMAZING bit of anecdotal observation/biology from the 2013 North Atlantic Okeanos Explorer cruise, this brisingid, unclear which genus, based purely on the pic not only caught a fish but HELD onto it using ONLY its pedicellariae.
Owly Images
Pedicellariae are tiny claw-shaped structures that cover each of those spines..sort of like staples embedded in a sock. These capture various food and prey items.. but mostly it was thought they captured crustaceans. Capturing fish is a bit unusual....

Food caught by the spines and on the surface are then moved down to the underside to the mouth...

Colleague Jackson Chu, provides us with a GREAT pic of the UNDERSIDE of a brisingid, showing the mouth, tube foot grooves and etc.. just what you would expect from any proper sea star...

Here are some stunning panoramic shots of brisingids. Presumably, these occur on places where water currents are favorable for them to capture food...  Both of these are from the North Atlantic via Okeanos Explorer..

These animals feed by holding their arms up into the water and capturing food/prey as it is carried by on the water currents...

This shot was from a spur projecting from the canyon wall in the North Atlantic (Block Canyon) in 2062-2131 m. 

This pic from 2013 Atlantic Canyons Expedition
Here are some great shots from Neptune Canada via Flickr...  A large individual, maybe Brisinga? on a sunken barrel..
some very "at attention" individuals...
Not all species occur on hard bottoms.. Some live on mud and sediment...
This one from the NE Canyons expedition in 2013
And just for a little diversity, From Japan, here is the underside of what I think is Brisingaster or Novodinia... These likely represent an unpublished record of this species in Japan..

Here is what the top side looks like...


  1. Do they catch only live prey? Or do they catch bits of floating detritus too?

  2. What a great question! Its unclear as to the full range of what they feed on. Certainly live prey is a big part of it. Its unclear what triggers the pedicellariae.
    Now that I think about it. I've never seen one with say, mucous threads covering the arms/spines or covered in marine snow/detritus. It seems perfectly reasonable for them to capture detritus but not sure why/how. Maybe only via tube feet? Some live on muddy bottoms, so perhaps they make use of detritus from different sources. Interesting. thanks!

  3. we found one in a rockpool in KalkBay, Cape Town. Can send you a photo - though a bit blurry. My son want's to know how big they grow. the one we found was 10 - 12cm diameter. Do they also live on rocky coastlines or could this one have washed in from the deep?

  4. Lori, I think what you have collected is a brittle star which very much resembles a brisingid. Brittle stars are distant relatives of sea stars. They live in very deep water and for various reasons don't wash up on shore or occur in rockpools. Search "brittle star" or "ophiuroid" on this blog or on Google and I think you'll find something more consistent with what you have found...