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These Baby Starfish Are Carnivorous Little Snowflakes

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Six-rayed sea stars make great moms! Unlike most sea stars, mama six-rayed sea stars are VERY involved in their kids’ lives, caressing and protecting their babies for months. When they’re big enough, the youngsters venture out on their own to ruthlessly hunt down their tiny prey.

TRANSCRIPT

This little starfish has a secret.

She’s hiding something precious beneath her …

Her babies.

These chubby globes are her embryos, and these are her larvae that have already hatched.

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Right now, they look nothing like her, but over the next couple of months, they’ll take after her in more ways than one.

She’s called a six-rayed sea star.

That’s one arm more than most sea stars.

And she’s way smaller, about the size of a bottle cap.

She lives in Northern California’s intertidal zone — where the land and sea collide.

The crashing waves and hungry predators make it a rough neighborhood to raise kids in.

So she protects them under that baby bump.

Scientists call this brooding, which is an unusual behavior for this type of sea creature.

Most sea stars and their cousins, like sand dollars … and sea urchins … take a sort of free-range approach to raising their kids.

They’re broadcast spawners.

Adults release enormous numbers of eggs … and sperm … right into the water.

They meet and develop into young.

They grow up all on their own.

Only the luckiest make it to adulthood.

Six-rayed sea star moms take the opposite approach.

They have fewer babies and are extremely involved in their kids’ lives.

She carefully cleans and caresses her growing brood with her delicate feet.

Tending to these cuties means their mom doesn’t eat for three whole months.

Because she cares so much … and because the babies are literally right in front of her mouth.

The growing kids hold onto her and their siblings with these three stubby, temporary limbs, called brachiolar arms.

As the larvae develop they don’t eat either.

They don’t even have a mouth!

Instead, they survive off of stored energy already inside them.

After about a month, six brand new arms start to pop out.

And, they grow their very first tube feet.

Awww.

They reabsorb those brachiolar arms.

And finally begin to resemble mini-versions of their mom.

When they’re big enough, the precious snowflakes venture out on their own.

You can’t stay with mom forever.

With their long, gangly tube feet, the baby sea stars are like puppies that haven’t grown into their oversized paws yet.

It’s time to track down their first meal.

Adult sea stars eat shellfish like barnacles and snails.

Baby sea stars go after the baby versions.

It’s a baby-eat-baby world out here!

The tiny sea star wraps its arms around its prey …

… and extends its stomach into the snail’s shell, digesting it alive.

Some may say they’re coddled, but all that extra attention during those crucial early months gives these little six-rayed sea stars a better chance of making it big.

Hey!

Deep Look could use some coddling too.

Join us on Patreon so we can keep making tiny ocean stories for you.

Like how sea urchins have a tumultuous youth.

Or how sand dollars munch on metal to keep from getting swept away.

Enjoy!

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