Starfish are far more than the classic icons of summertime beach trips. In truth, each of the varying "types of starfish" inhabiting the ocean depths displays unique characteristics and leads surprisingly complex lives.
Be aware of their often simple outward appearance; once you dive deeper into their world, you will discover an array of colors, shapes, behaviors, and adaptations as varied as the ocean.
Related Read: Starfish Facts.
Starfish, part of the Phylum Echinodermata and Class Asteroidea, are broadly divided into two subclasses: Asterozoa and Ophiuroidea. They are diverse creatures, with about 1,500 to 2,000 species spread across nearly 36 families.
These species vary in size, color, and number of arms. Read on to discover some of the more interesting types of these fascinating marine creatures.
17 Different Types of Starfish Species
1. Leather Star (Dermasterias imbricata)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Leather Star stands out due to its large size and distinctive texture? With a unique appearance resembling a patchwork quilt, this starfish resides in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest and showcases a remarkable ability to regenerate lost limbs.
Leather Stars live along the West Coast from Alaska to California. Their name comes from their unique leathery skin. They can grow up to a diameter of around 30 centimeters (12 inches), making them one of the larger starfish species in their habitat. The starfish typically has five arms, each broad and tapering, giving it a distinct shape. The surface of its arms has a rough texture of raised, interlocking plates.
This sea star comes in shades like green, orange, and brown. It's a hunter and a cleaner. It eats sea anemones, cucumbers, and even other sea stars. And it's excellent at cleaning up carcasses and other marine waste.
2. Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Crown-of-Thorns starfish is one of the largest sea star species and has a voracious appetite? Starfish are destructive predators in coral reefs, consuming up to 6 sq. meters per year.
Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, or Acanthaster planci, can grow up to 80 centimeters wide! It comes in colors like blue, green, and red. This species of sizeable venomous starfish is common in Australia. Still, they can also be found in large areas between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and across the Pacific Ocean until the western coast of Central America3.
3. Red Cusion Star (Mediaster aequalis)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Red Star is not red? This starfish can be orange, yellow, or purple.
You can find this species from the Aleutian Islands to California. This starfish has a round body with five short arms (which appear as a cushion). The Red Star likes to come out at night and hide during the day. It has no spiky parts and moves gracefully while looking for food. It eats small things like mollusks, crustaceans, and stuff from dead plants and animals.
4. Bat Sea Stars (Patiria miniata)
Fun Fact: Did you know the Bat Star can regenerate its entire body from a single arm? If a Bat Star loses one of its arms, it can grow a new body from that arm alone!
Bat Star lives in the rocky reefs of the Pacific Ocean. You can find it from Alaska to California. It comes in bright colors like red, orange, yellow, and purple. It has up to nine arms, unlike most starfish that only have five. It's tough even though it moves about 4 inches a minute slowly. It can live up to 35 years and grow a whole new body from just one arm.
5. Chocolate Chip Sea Stars (Protoreaster nodosus)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Chocolate Chip Starfish, also known as the Granulated Sea Star, has small, dark brown or black nodules that cover its body? These nodules resemble chocolate chips on a cookie!
The Chocolate Chip Sea Star lives in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Even though the population is not in danger, they face pollution and coral bleaching.
6. Red Cushion Sea Star (Culcita novaeguineae)
Fun Fact: Did you know the Red Cushion Star is a master of disguise? Whether hiding among rocks, corals, or even sandy bottoms, the Cushion Star can effortlessly camouflage itself, making it quite the stealthy sea creature!
The Red Cushion Sea Star, also known as the West Indian Sea Star, is found in the western Atlantic and Caribbean waters' shallow waters. This sea star is an omnivore and likes to eat algae, sponges, and small invertebrates that it comes across on the sea floor.
This cushion star has a unique round, puffed-up shape. Its short arms blend into its rounded body. It uses its tube feet to move around and find food. These feet have vigorous suckers that help them grab things and move.
7. Northern Pacific Sea Star (Asterias amurensis)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Northern Pacific Sea Star is not only a starfish but also an invasive species? The Pacific Ocean starfish threatens local marine ecosystems by eating corals1.
These species have numerous colors, from purple to orange. It has five arms slightly connected at the base, making it look like a triangle. It lives in China, Korea, Russia, Australia, Alaska, and Europe. Like other sea star species, it eats by ejecting its stomach outside its body to digest its food immediately. At night, these sea stars come out to find food. During the day, they hide under rocks or in cracks.
8. Reef Starfish (Stichaster australis)
Fun Fact: Did you know that Reef Starfish can regenerate their limbs? If a reef starfish loses one of its arms, it can grow completely new in months!
The Reef Starfish are colorful sea stars and can be orange, red, and purple. They live in the Southern Oceans, particularly in Australia and New Zealand.
They're tough with thick bodies, usually having five arms but sometimes four or six. They hang out in rocky places underwater, especially in the deeper parts of the ocean. They eat sea urchins using their tube feet to open them and reach the soft parts inside.
9. Royal Starfish (Astropecten articulatus)
Fun Fact: Did you know that, unlike other starfish, the tube feet of the Royal Starfish lack sucker? They use their pointed tips to help them find food.
You can find these amazing creatures in the warm parts of the Atlantic Ocean, from North Carolina to Brazil. Its arms are long and pointed, like a crown. It likes to travel on the sandy or muddy ocean floor, even in the deepest parts of the water.
10. Green Brittle Starfish (Ophiuroidea)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the brittle star, despite its name, is quite flexible? Unlike other starfish species, the brittle star's arms are long and slender, allowing it to move and bend like a snake. The brittle star is an expert at hiding and escaping from predators due to its flexibility in navigating through coral reef crevices and cracks.
Brittle Stars or Ophiuroidea are fascinating creatures found in the deep sea. They have a distinct structure with a central disc and long, slender arms extending up to 60cm. These nocturnal residents are creatures of the dark, preferring to emerge under the protective shroud of the moon. Detritus, decaying matter, and plankton are their primary diet, punctuated occasionally by small animals.
11. Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides)
Fun Fact: Did you know the Sunflower Sea Star can have up to 24 arms and grow 3 feet in diameter? They are also known for their bright orange and purple coloration.
The Sunflower Sea Star is one of the largest sea star species, with a characteristic appearance that resembles the petals of a sunflower. It has arms ranging from 15 to 24, radiating from its central disk.
The Sunflower Sea Star inhabits shallow coastal waters along the Pacific coast of North America, ranging from Alaska to Baja California. It is commonly found in rocky reefs, kelp forests, and intertidal zones.
Sunflower Sea Stars are vulnerable to a disease known as Sea Star Wasting Disease, which has led to significant die-offs in some areas. This disease causes lesions, tissue degradation, and limb loss.
12. Pink Sea Star (Pisaster brevispinus)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Pink Sea Star is one the most beautiful marine creatures due to its striking pink to reddish coloration?
This sea star species is found along the west coast of North America. Their vibrant hue sets them apart from other sea star species and makes them a visually appealing sight in coastal waters. While most sea stars have five arms, the Pink Sea Star can have four to seven arms. This slight variation in arm count adds to its uniqueness.
Pink Sea Stars can be found in various habitats, from intertidal zones to subtidal areas. They are often seen on rocky shores, clinging to rocks and crevices. Like many sea star species, the Pink Sea Star can regenerate lost limbs. If an arm gets damaged or detached, it has the remarkable ability to regrow over time.
13. Australian Southern Sand Star (Astropecten polyacanthus)
Fun Fact: Did you know the Australian Southern Sand Star is a deadly predator? It devours clams, sea urchins, snails, and other sea stars.
Astropecten polyacanthus is characterized by its flattened, pentagonal shape with five arms that are broad at the base and taper toward the tips. The size of this species can vary, with arm spans typically ranging from about 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 inches). It has subtle patterns in shades of brown, beige, or grey.
This species is found in the shallow waters of the southern coast of Australia and New Zealand. It prefers sandy or silty substrates, which can burrow and move around. It is a carnivorous predator that feeds on small invertebrates and detritus in the sand. This starfish uses its tube feet to sift through the sand and capture prey items. The conservation status of Astropecten polyacanthus is not typically a major concern, as it is relatively common in its native range.
14. Sand-Sifting Starfish (Astropecten polyacanthus)
Fun Fact: Did you know that sand-sifting starfish are also known as comb sea stars? Their name comes from their tube feet that look like a comb.
They are commonly found in tropical and subtropical oceans and are known for their ability to sift through sand to find food. They have a flat, star-shaped body with short arms. These starfish are like underwater cleaners. They move slowly on the sand and use their arms to pick up tiny bits of food and dirt. They eat carcasses, debris, and marine plants.
15. Morning Sun Star (Solaster dawsoni)
Fun Fact: Did you know that Morning Sun Star has a sneaky way of hunting? It extends its arms to catch prey like small animals and sea urchins.
The Morning Sun Star, also known as Solaster Dawsoni, is named due to its resemblance to the sun. It lives in the northern Pacific Ocean, from Japan to North America. Although it might seem cute, it's a hungry predator. It eats sea urchins, clams, and other small sea creatures. It's most active at night. This helps it hide from other animals that might want to eat it. Sand Sifting Starfish can grow to eight inches wide and are safe to house in a reef tank.
16. Blue Sea Star (Linckia laevigata)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Blue Sea Star got its name from its bright blue color?
The Blue Sea Star, also called the Blue Linckia, is a sea creature famous for its beautiful blue color2. These sea stars move slowly, gliding along the seafloor with their arms and little feet. You might spot them in the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific area, especially around the Great Barrier Reef. They prefer living in coral reefs and grassy areas.
17. Antarctic Sun Starfish (Labidiaster annulatus)
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Antarctic Sun Starfish, also called Wolftrap Starfish, can grow up to two feet? This coldwater starfish lives in the Antarctic peninsula.
The Antarctic Sun Starfish is endemic to the frigid waters around Antarctica. Its distinguishing feature is its vibrant coloration, which ranges from shades of orange to deep red, resembling the colors of a radiant sunset. Unlike many other starfish species, the Antarctic Sun Starfish possesses an impressive radial symmetry accentuated by its numerous arms, ranging from 11 to 24 in number.
This species is well-adapted to survive in its harsh habitat. It dwells in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean, where temperatures can plummet to extreme lows. These starfish primarily inhabit the seafloor, often found in deeper waters with rocky or sandy substrates. Their feeding habits involve scavenging for organic matter, such as residue and tiny marine organisms, using their tube feet to manipulate and collect food particles.
Miyoshi, K., Kuwahara, Y., & Miyashita, K. (2018). Tracking the Northern Pacific sea star Asterias amurensis with acoustic transmitters in the scallop mariculture field of Hokkaido, Japan. Fisheries Science, 84(2), 349–355.
Waheed, Z., Bos, A. R., Kochzius, M., & Hoeksema, B. W. (2022). Genetic population structure of the blue sea star (Linckia laevigata) and the boring giant clam (Tridacna crocea) across Malaysia. Hydrobiologia, 850(1), 81–95.
Kroon, F. J., Barneche, D. R., & Emslie, M. J. (2021). Fish predators control outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish. Nature Communications, 12(1).