The sunflower starfish are known in the scientific field as Pycnopodia helianthoides, and they are asteroid echinoderms.
These starfish are excellent predators and they usually inhabit the waters located in the coasts of the northwest area of North America.
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General Description of the Sunflower Starfish
There is no doubt that the most striking feature of this species lies in its large size, since it is considered to be the biggest starfish, even exceeding the size of the crown of thorns starfish
The reference measurements of this species are about 90 centimeters in diameter, and at least one and a half meters in height, being also the heaviest starfish weighing about 5 kgms. Another outstanding characteristic of the sunflower starfish, is the speed of up to 3 meters per minute they can develop, which makes of them one of the fastest starfish that exist.
The anatomy of this species is characterized by having 15 up to 25 relatively long, wide and flexible arms, which are generated in the central disc. It also has over 15,000 tube feet with suction cups.
In terms of colors, the sunflower starfish present different tonalities that ranges from an intense orange to yellow and in some cases red, although there are also specimens brown or even purple.
In terms of behavior the sunflower starfish are quite nervous, especially when they are in the presence of their potential predators, such as the king crab. In this situation the sunflower starfish usually drops one arm, and then they send a chemical that causes an alarm response to other sunflower stars in the area. ( See article: Starfish.for further information, about the properties of starfish to quickly recover any dropped arm)
Habitat and Distribution of the Sunflower Starfish
The Pycnopodia helianthoides, is commonly found in the northeast Pacific Ocean, even in waters belonging to Alaska.
The intertidal zone,especially the waters rich in organisms such as algae, is the ideal habitat for this starfish, which in very few cases inhabit high tide or even average tide areas , since the structure of their bodies is fleshy and require water to sustain it.
Alimentation Habits of the Sunflower Starfish
In terms of alimentation we can say that the sunflower starfish are primarily carnivorous, and mussels, sea urchins, fish, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, clams, gastropods, and occasionally algae and sponges, are their most common preys.
It should be noted; that there are studies that confirm that this species has been able to feed on dead or dying squid
Due to the characteristics of their bodies, they manage to fulfill their diet easily, since they are skilled and fast for mobilizing to get the food they need. Their arms, tube feet, strong sense of smell and their very sensitive indicators of light and dark, are the main tools they employ to find their prey and catch them.
After capturing their preys, the sunflower starfish have the ability to expand their mouths and extend their stomachs out of the mouth to digest their preys, especially the largest ones.
Sunflower Starfish and the Humans Beings
All marine starfish have particular features and characteristics; which make of them really interesting and attractive. The red and blue starfish captivate anyone with their colors, the dangerous and enigmatic crown of thorns starfish, and the sunflower starfish that is the largest of all.
The most important thing is to remember that we all inhabit the earth; therefore we have the right to enjoy the wonders of nature, but also the duty to take care of them. It will depend on this that the ecological balance and biodiversity are maintained.
Finally, we have this illustrative video for you