When most people think of starfish, they imagine a sea critter crawling slowly along the sea floor with five identical limbs. However, starfish, more appropriately called sea stars since they aren’t fish, can have any number of limbs and come in a variety of shapes and colors. Many unique species make their home in Florida.
While they were referred to by scientists as starfish for years, the title "sea star" is now more common. This is because starfish aren’t fish. Sea stars are echinoderms—a group of animals whose name means "spiny skin"—and are closely related to sea urchins and sand dollars. They move using tiny suction-cup “feet.” If they lose a limb, they can regenerate a new one. Depending on the species, some starfish can even grow an entirely new star just from a portion of a missing limb.
Common Comet Star
The comet star is a very common star found in the reef areas around Florida and into the Caribbean. It ranges from brick-red to violet and is often found missing a limb. Comet stars are one of the species that can regrow an entirely new star from only the remnant of a broken arm. The comet star typically has six arms instead of five.
Mud Brittle Star
The mud brittle star has a small central disk and long, skinny arms, growing to up to 5 inches long. It is the largest star to inhabit the shallow waters of Florida. These stars are usually gray or white, with brown or black bands on their arms. Mud brittle stars may be hard to spot since they bury themselves up to 5 inches deep in the sand.
Reticulated Brittle Star
The reticulated brittle star has five thin arms connected to a pentagon-shaped central disk. The body is gray, covered in a web of red or brown lines. The star has five gray arms with dark brown stripes. These stars are called "brittle" because the arms can easily break off. The reticulated brittle star uses this to its advantage, deliberately shedding limbs that are grabbed by predators.
Common Blunt Arm Star
The common blunt arm sea star is sometimes called the pentagon starfish because of its shape. While it has five arms, they aren’t as distinguished from the body as with other stars, giving the entire star a flat, pentagonal shape. Typically red or orange in color, sometimes they are bright blue or green.