Sunflower Star, Pycnopodia helianthoides

Sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides

Sunflower stars are attractive sea stars that are most at home in the subtidal zone and deeper. You will sometimes encounter them on the beaches if there are rocks around and the tide is especially low. I discovered these in and around low tide pools on July 23, when low tide stooped to the lowest, or nearly so, of the year.

Exposed, dragging itself across a sand-filled pool
Sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides

Compared to other sea stars, like Pisaster ochraceus (see Sea Stars and Sand Dollars), sunflower stars seem soft-bodied and limp out of water; this one (above) has only been able to drag itself about one body length since the receding tide left it exposed on the sand. But don’t let that fool you, under water, sunflowers are speed burners.

Flipped over on a rock
Sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides

This sunflower (above) either fell or was upset by a gull picking at it once it became exposed. Soft bodies make sunflowers vulnerable to predators, even other sea stars.

Eleven big arms, nine little arms
Sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides

You’ve probably heard about the regeneration abilities of starfish.  If they do lose an arm, or arms, as sunflowers frequently do, they can grow new ones.  This one has 11 long arms and 9 regenerating arms, bringing the total to 20, just about the right number for a sunflower star.  The rather perfectly formed specimen in the lead photo of this post has 21 arms.

If you want to learn more about sunflower stars, check out Neil McDaniels’ great photos and account in Sea Stars of the Pacific Northwest.

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