Sea Stars

Star light, star bright ...

Reef star     Cushion star     Biscuit star     Brittle star     Uri

Sea stars (not Starfish) are built on a five rayed plan, although some stars have many more than five arms. Their skin is set with limy plates and the mouth is underneath in the centre of the arms.

Reef Starreef

(Astrostole scabra) - seven-armed starfish (pictured);

(Coscinasterias muricata) - an eleven-armed starfish

(Stichaster australis) - a twelve-armed star

All may be found in Wellington waters. Thanks to NIWA's Kate Neill for her insights on reef star arms.

Habitat: Open, exposed, rocky coasts. Around Wellington Harbour they are abundant near Burnham Wharf and the Shelly Bay wharf.

Identification: A large star which reaches a span of about 35 cm. The number of arms varies but there are usually ten, eleven or twelve. Colour varies from brown to grey.

General: The animal is strong and clings solidly to the rocks.

 Cushion Starcushion

(Patiriella regularis)

Habitat: Common at intertidal and shallow depths.

Identification: The colour varies, but may be red, mottled green, or grey. Although the usual number of arms is five, occasional examples are found with four or even as many as eight arms.

General: This is the most common starfish throughout New Zealand.

Biscuit Starbiscuit

(Pentagonaster pulchellus)

Habitat: Fairly general in shallower waters.

Identification: The colour pattern varies from tinted red through orange to grey or even light purple. The body is very stiff and the whole rim is lined with large, solid plates.

General: One of our most beautiful starfishes,


Brittlestars vary from true sea stars in that they have a small, round, central disc from which the arms radiate. The arms can break easily if the animal is disturbed, but they will grow back again. The Snakestail Star (Pectinura maculata) is the largest brittle star in New Zealand growing to approximately 350 mm across.

Uri  uri

(Eurygonias hylacanthus)

Habitat: Observed at depths between 5 and 30 metres. Noted in a crevice in Breaker Bay, at Princess Bay, and at 30 metres on a reef 1 km off Lyall Bay. Two of them live at The Sirens.

Identification: A fat, red, cushion-like starfish covered in white pom-poms.

General: Uri seems to be fairly rare and has been recorded officially about eleven times, not counting my sightings. The Marine Lab at Island Bay would welcome any Uri reports (not collected animals). Valuable details would include location, depth and what it was living on.

I have been keeping an eye on one in a cave at The Sirens for over a year now. I missed the cave one day and swam a bit farther than normal, but found Uri grazing on some weed. On the way back I found the cave I had been looking for. When I went in for a nosey, my original friend was still in there. Uri just seems to move from one side of the cave to the other over the course of about three months. I find it intriguing that two rare sea stars happen to live near to the Marine Lab.

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