Echinoblog Outreach

I have done outreach/interviews...
Image by Liz Gorinsky
From Smithsonian's Around the Mall

Here are various noteworthy Interviews and such...

A recent "Night School" presentation for the California Academy of Sciences on my new species from Rapa Nui! Jan 2022

That time Stephen Colbert used my Tweet for the "real" SpongeBob Squarepants seen on Okeanos Explorer! August 2021 (at about 4:40)

The Common Descent Podcast interview from 2018

The Just the Zoo of Us, episode 80! 


Marcia Salmond said...

I have been reading about the seastars and wonder if you have considered the waste by product of crystal meth production because tons of it have gone into those waters.Perhaps it kills some food critical to the immune systems
Is there something in the environment around the healthy ones is anyone doing grabs and loking for relationship between healthy areas or why morivirus is rampant.Is it or is just something missing from diet?

ChrisM said...

There is no evidence of crystal meth byproducts affecting sea stars that I know of. thanks for your comment.

Darcie said...

Hi, I've always like echinoderms and it's cool finding your blog, I just wish it hadn't taken a mass die off to do so. Anyhow, thank you for all the cool information, but I'm curious, has anyone been looking at planktonic larva of sea stars in the affected areas? Is this strictly an illness of adults, or is it hitting the next generation as well? It seems that a mechanical cause would be more likely to just hit the adults while an infection would go after both. Just a thought.

ChrisM said...

thanks for your excellent question. Unfortunately, there's not really any data on the disease's effect on larvae at the moment. Since they haven't identified the agent of the disease, its hard to say whether it affects other aspects of the animal's life cycle.

Mel said...

Dear Chris,

I noticed you have an interest in sea urchins.

I’m trying to get the word out about a computer simulation of the sea urchin ecology. I’m writing on behalf of Graham Morehead, the one who did this research.

Here’s a recent TED talk where he explains the model:

If there’s a chance that this line of thinking could lead to sustainability, please pass it on.

Mellany Hugo

Autumn Arnold said...

Your blog is great!

This may be sort of a basic question, but one of my favorite echinoderm experiences ever was seeing vast herds of black longspine urchins (Diadema setosum, I believe) traveling together on the sea bed in Lembeh, Indonesia. I have searched the internet and can't find more than a cursory explanation of why they travel in packs. Do you have any insight into this behavior?

ChrisM said...

Mel- I will indeed pass your link onto my Twitter feed! thanks!

Autumn- I suspect that they cluster together as an aid to reproduction. Having neighbors increases the chance of their gametes being introduced to one another in the water column. But its possible there is more. I shall look into it..

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,
Fantastic blog! Hope Japan continues cool.
I have an excellent plushie of an E. coli I got at the Wellcome Institute in London, but what the world really needs are FORAMINIFERA toys...
BTW do you know any good foram blogs?

Cecily said...

Hi again Chris,
That was me above with the forams comment before I got the name thing right.
I’ll tell you why I found your blog: I was chasing the below question.
The anthropologist Baldwin Spencer went to Tierra del Fuego in early 1929 and said the sea urchins in the Murray Narrows resembles a Strongylocentrotus from Victoria (Australia). I’ve been guessing the TdelF one was Loxechinus albus cos that’s on the net as being very common there, but then what Strongylocentrotus would it be like? Any thoughts?
And if so...anywhere I could access a picture?

ChrisM said...

Better late than never Cecily..

A good protist blog is this one:

she also blogs here:

one foram blog:

the British Museum has a micropaleo blog

and the foram gallery:

ChrisM said...

As to your second question regarding urchins, there are no species of Strongylocentrotus which occur in Australia. However this purple species
Heliocidaris erythorgramma superficially resembles Strongylocentrotus and was called Strongylocentrotus in the 19th century. The genus Heliocidaris was described later.
some pix here:

hope that helps...albeit much later than you asked!

Cecily said...

Thanks Chris, that's brilliant.

I imagine Spencer chomping down on Heliocidaris in some Melbourne gentleman's club, and asking a crusty old chap from the Biology Dept what it is, and that guy gets out his MNHN books...
Then many years later Spencer is in the Murray Narrows (on a rock) hassling everyone about kinship terms, and one of the local people brings him an urchin and in that moment he is transported home...

BTW the Suntay emerging brittle star video is wondrous - very alien and delicate - but he's cheating - played backwards!!

Fantastic blog - thanks again.

Roberto Márquez said...

Dear friend. Can you help me?
Are there Temnopleurus on the West Africa coast?

Roberto Márquez

ChrisM said...

I'm unaware of any but I'm not an expert in urchins.

Bob Clouser said...

I'm trying to identify sand dollars found at North Myrtle Beach. I think they're Echinarachnius parma, but some references say these are only found from New Jersey north. I have pictures I can send

ChrisM said...

I'd need to see a picture of one to know. If they have lunules (holes) in them, they are definitely not E. parma.

Marcia taylor said...

Often I see the long spined sea urchins (Diadema) with their spines in clumps. Why do they do this? Any info on this would be appreciated.

ChrisM said...

thanks for your question. Its hard to say without seeing what you are seeing. It could be that the spines are directed against potential predators or it might be incidental. A picture might help. thanks for your interest!

Anonymous said...

Good evening, 
I am Addison S. (senior) from West Orange High School.

We have been assigned a project to interview marine biologists to receive more information from real world scientists and I would love to ask you some questions through e-mail or this comment section. Would you be interested in answering some quick questions?

I have also noticed most of the answers to my questionnaire are in your "about me" page, which I would gladly use for my project but I would need some written permission. If you would prefer that method that is perfect for me as well.

Thank you for even considering. Have a good day.

ChrisM said...

You can use answers for your questionnaire in my "about me" page, but obviously they should be attributed correctly and be written in the proper context. Everything should be accurately reported.

have a good day.

Mike Scotland said...

Hello Chris I witnessed a population explosion of Crown of Thorns Sea Stars at Taveuni, Fiji three years ago. We were counting more than a hundred on a dive. One resort owner of 21 years said he has seen this a few times. They suddenly die off en mass when the population is so great that they are very close to each other, as if some deadly plague of a bacteria or a fungus is spread about. He suggested that the disease might spread by contact when the Crown of Thorns population gets dense enough. Do you have any insight into a possible nature of the disease?

ChrisM said...

Hi Mike,
There has been a long history of ideas regarding the Crown of thorns population plague outbreak phenomena. There have been some 5 or 6 major theories that become popular every few years. The current one is that larval numbers are enriched by run off from terrestrial or some other source leading to enhanced recruitment of adults.

one of these days I will have to write a short summary of the various schools of thought.

The die-off dynamic is one that I've not hear before but its often difficult to assess localized versus widespread outbreaks. interesting account. thanks!

RussB said...

Hi, the COTS are an interesting animal alright. I have been studying them on and off for a while and am wondering where they sit in the hierarchy of most fecund starfish?
They would have to be close to the top, but what about things like Pycnopodia and other large multi-armed starfish? Does anyone out there know of published data on some of these species. The max for COTS based on Pratchett's recent review is 65 million!

Unknown said...

where can i find the video "Smithsonian: Oil's Impact on Marine Invertebrates"?
its deleted.

ChrisM said...

This one?

Unknown said...

Greetings to all,

I'm looking for information on the possible origins of sand dollars bought in Niger, Africa.
Please advise, thank you.


Dave Harris said...

Hello Dr. Mah,

This statement in the Wikipedia article on echinoderms piqued my curiosity:

"Echinoderms are also the largest phylum that has no freshwater or terrestrial (land-based) representatives."

To your knowledge, is this claim accurate? Obviously, the negative cannot be proven. But is this a generally accepted observation?

After reading that, I've wondered about the possibility of a non-marine echinoderm (NME). Does the physiology of the phylum require a marine environment? Have NMEs been found but cataloged incorrectly? Does the fossil record suggest there may have been NMEs at some time in the past? So many questions!

(I'm a retiree with no background in biology who is interested in this puzzle.)

Thanks in advance for your insight,
Dave Harris

ChrisM said...

Hi Mr. Harris,
That statement is VERY accurate. Echinoderms do not occur in marine settings. Some cryptic species such as brittle stars can tolerate brackish water (i.e. mixed sea & fresh) but to date, no freshwater echinoderms have ever been found.

Their absence from these habitats is thought to lie largely because of the absence of water-regulating organs, such as the kidney. All echinoderms are essentially filled with seawater to survive. They actually use it as circulatory fluid.

The fossil record also shows no history of freshwater occurrence.

Dave Harris said...

Thanks for your quick response. One reason that the statement struck me as unusual is that I had previously read about freshwater sponges, which I assumed were all marine as well.

Fascinating! Perhaps there _is_ a 'black swan' echinoderm.

ChrisM said...

Echinoderms have been documented since the 18th Century and with no evidence of freshwater occurrence. And more importantly no evidence that they can tolerate freshwater. Starfishes are often found dead after rainstorms on some coasts. Sponges and many other animal groups have successfully navigated the osmoregulatory gauntlet and made the invasion.. but there's no evidence that echinoderms have.. Their long success story in the oceans is a conservative one.

Michelle de Villiers said...

Hello dr. Mah,

I know sea stars don't have eyes as such, but eye spots on their arms. I was wondering if you had any clear pictures of an eye spot on a brittle star/ if they are visible?

Thank you!


ChrisM said...

picture #2 in the eye for an eye gallery

Michelle de Villiers said...

That's wonderful, thank you!

Unknown said...

I have read about Linckia diplax species' exceptional ability to in some cases reproduce from a single limb with no central disc. They are said to be able to produce a small central disc and then grow from this into a new starfish over several months. My question is, how can this single limb with no central disc survive and how can it feed to gain the energy that would be needed to regenerate the disc without the stomachs?

Unknown said...

This blog has taught me so much about the sea stars at the aquarium where I work! Thank you a billion!

Lauri Meyers said...

I have been amazed/ horrified to learn about sea star stomachs. I've started calling them the Darth Vaders of the ocean. I'm curious about the speed of the feeding process. How quickly does the chemical process occur that dissolves a clam inside a sea stars extended stomach? Thank you!

Danièle HEITZ said...

I'm trying to identify a group of starfish that I met in Philippine.
I'm not sure of the identifications, but I appreciated the lighting you brought on the species Pentaceraster. Thank you very much for your blog.

Marcia said...

I have a questions about sea urchins. I do a lot of swimming in the Caribbean and sometimes I see Diadema with its spines bunched together. What is going on with them? I have some pics but I don't know how to insert them. Let me know, thanks.

ChrisM said...

Offhand, I'd say that's probably just the urchin directing its spines towards potential threats. But if you could post pictures on a link..or send them to or via Twitter? @echinoblog

Its possible it could be something else.

Tressina said...

Hi Chris!

I'm an Aussie in Saudi Arabia and I'm an avid desert fossicker. I have several echinoid specimens I'd love for you to give me your opinion on. One is definitely a fossilized orange starfish (like the big blues we get on the Great Barrier Reef) wrapped around a rock, the other two in my opinion are ancient specimens not seen today. Is there an email address for you so as I can send pics for your opinion?

Many thanks


ChrisM said...

you can contact me at the email address herein

or at @echinoblog on Twitter

Anonymous said...

I have found and left it a pale translucent blue start fish. I do not see it listed or a picture of it. Is it rare? When I took the picture it was underwater shallow. You could see right thru it.

ChrisM said...

Sorry. without any pictures or any notion of where you saw this, its very difficult to speculate. if you have a link to an image or some way to have a better idea of what you are talking about, my ability to respond is limited.