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Sunflower Sea StarPycnopodia helianthoides

Size: 15 inches to one meter across
Color: yellow, orange, brown,
pink, red or purple
Description: 16-24 arms;
soft velvety body

 
Photo Courtesy of Anne Jennings

This sea star is a quick and voracious predator, easily overtaking sea urchins, clams and other invertebrates. It can grow quite large - up to one meter across!

Soft skin gives this sea star's flexible body a velvety texture. The purpleish-gray to pastel orange sea star hunts its prey in deep water and in low intertidal pools. It moves with amazing speed and can easily out-run its five legged cousin the Common Pacific/Ochre Sea Star.

The Sunflower Sea Star cannot venture into the higher intertidal zones and usually goes to deeper water when the tide recedes. Unlike the Common Pacific/Ochre Sea Star, this sea star's fragile body requires the support of the surrounding water to survive and is rarely seen out of the water at low tide.

The Sunflower Sea Star is fragile and easily stressed
This sea star's unusual appearance (up to 24 rays!) is a treat to see at Haystack Rock. Sometimes this tidepool-shy creature gets stranded at low tide and has to wait with all the other sea stars for the tide to come back in. If you see one, remember that they are easily stressed and will 'drop limbs' to escape what they perceive to be dangerous or harmful. Give these sea stars plenty of space and don't attempt to touch them or pick them up. If you're lucky this sea star might be hungry enough to 'hunt' for food in the tidepools while you're watching. Be patient and watch closely.

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