Overview

Comprehensive Description

Description

 A large brittlestar with twisted arms that are conspicuously banded. The disc is pentagonal and covered with regular rounded plates. The arms are thick and segmented, with 6-7 short thick spines encircling each segment with one small spine being transformed into a hook. The dorsal surface of the arms has a single series of oval plates along its midline each surrounded by a ring of smaller plates. The colour is mainly red but often variegated and, more rarely, the disc may be bluish. The disc is approximately 15 mm across and the arms are 4x disc diameter in length.This species avoids light and prefers to hide beneath rocks, under shells or among seaweed. By virtue of their long flexible arms this species is well adapted for attaching itself to other animals.
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Biology/Natural History: This is the main species common on rocky shores in our area. Others can be found in gravelly areas or in areas with boulders interspersed with sand. They feed by capturing food with their tube feet, by picking up detritus, or by mucus secreted by the rays. Predators include fish and harlequin ducks. Ovaries are red and testes are white. In our area they may spawn in Jan-March, July, October, or November. In the USSR (White sea), spawning seems to follow a lunar cycle. Metamorphosis from the larval stage does not occur until 83-216 days after fertilization.

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This brittle star is distinctive in this area because the plates on the aboral surface of the rays are separated from one another by smaller supplementary plates (photo). The rays have five spines on the lateral plates (photo), the middle of which is the largest. Color and pattern are extremely variable. The color usually includes red stripes or blotches, usually interspersed with brown but sometimes with green. Flora and Fairbanks state that it can sometimes be black and white or gray and brown. The oral surface is whitish (photo).
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Description

A large brittle star with twisted arms which are conspicuously banded. The disc is covered with large plates separated by small granules and the dorsal surface of the arm has a single series of oval plates along its midline each surrounded by a ring of smaller plates. There are 4-5 robust conical arm spines and a single tentacle scale. Disc 15mm. arms 4x disc diameter. Ophiactis balli is similar but smaller.
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Distribution

Common on the lower shore and sublittoral region of the northern coast of British Isles and down to at least 100 m depth off western coasts; absent from the English Channel and southern North Sea
  • Southward, E.C.; Campbell, A.C. (2006). [Echinoderms: keys and notes for the identification of British species]. Synopses of the British fauna (new series), 56. Field Studies Council: Shrewsbury, UK. ISBN 1-85153-269-2. 272 pp.
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Circumpolar
  • Hayward, P.J.; Ryland, J.S. (Ed.) (1990). The marine fauna of the British Isles and North-West Europe: 1. Introduction and protozoans to arthropods. Clarendon Press: Oxford, UK. ISBN 0-19-857356-1. 627 pp.
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Arctic to Cape Cod
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Geographic Range

The most common of all brittle stars, they can usually be found worldwide in marine environments. A specific area to see these creatures is the Arctic South to Cape Cod and sometimes to East Long Island Sound.(Gosner 1978)

Biogeographic Regions: atlantic ocean (Native )

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Geographical Range: Worldwide, especially north temperate. On our coasts, Bering Sea to Santa Barbara, CA; most abundant in the north.

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Widely distributed around the British Isles but commoner in the north. Reaches the southern limit of its distribution in the English Channel.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

The daisy brittle star has a star-shaped body that is radially symmetrical and supported by a hard endoskeleton made of calcium. Its 5-7 spiny, jointed arms are attached to a central disk that contains the mouth and jaws, stomach, and saclike body cavities called bursa.

A characteristic of all echinoderms is the water vascular system. Water-filled canals branch out from a ring canal that encircles the gut. The canals lead to the brittle star's tube feet, which it uses for grasping and moving objects. Special sensory tube feet are used for sensory perception.

The mouth is made up of five moveable jaw segments, and food enters the mouth and goes directly into the stomach. There is no intestine and no anus, thus absorption and excretion is carried out by the bursa located at the base of each of the arms. Like all the echinoderms, the brittle star has no head and eyes, nor do their bodies contain a brain or a heart.

Daisy brittle stars have a disc diameter of up to 2 cm and its arms grow to about 8 cm long. It can grow a diameter of 5-7 mm in two years. Usually a reddish shade, the daisy brittle star frequently has dark bands on the arms, although colors and markings may vary. The upper arm plate of this species is ringed by small scales and 5-6 arm spines. The disk is covered with fine, blunt spines and large oval plates. When handled by humans or predators, the brittle star's arms can detach, hence the name.(Bernhard 1972, Gosner 1978, Kistner 1999)

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Look Alikes

How to Distinguish from Similar Species: This is the only local species of brittle stars that has the supplementary plates.
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Ecology

Habitat

intertidal, bathyal, infralittoral and circalittoral of the Gulf and estuary
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Because brittle stars tend to be shy, they are usually found hidden within or beneath rocks in tidepools, or burrowing in the sand and mud. Usually they can be found in the lower intertidal zones up to almost 5000 feet deep.(Gosner 1978)

Aquatic Biomes: reef ; coastal

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Depth range based on 2423 specimens in 3 taxa.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 1396 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): -1 - 45444
  Temperature range (°C): -1.614 - 16.385
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.957 - 43.951
  Salinity (PPS): 27.109 - 36.159
  Oxygen (ml/l): 0.482 - 8.635
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.057 - 3.299
  Silicate (umol/l): 1.335 - 186.792

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): -1 - 45444

Temperature range (°C): -1.614 - 16.385

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.957 - 43.951

Salinity (PPS): 27.109 - 36.159

Oxygen (ml/l): 0.482 - 8.635

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.057 - 3.299

Silicate (umol/l): 1.335 - 186.792
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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 Commonly found in the crevices of rocks amongst horse mussels or under rocks and shells. May form dense beds in tidal sounds in Scotland. Lives in rock pools and can be found to depths of 2000 m.
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Depth Range: Lower intertidal to 2000 m

Habitat: Rocky intertidal or kelp holdfasts

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Characteristically found in crevices or borings in rock with just the arms projecting.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Their main source of food are small bits of decaying matter and microscopic organisms. Sometimes they feed upon larger prey such as polychaete worms and small crustaceans.(Gosner 1978)

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Breeding

Ophiopluteus larva
  • Southward, E.C.; Campbell, A.C. (2006). [Echinoderms: keys and notes for the identification of British species]. Synopses of the British fauna (new series), 56. Field Studies Council: Shrewsbury, UK. ISBN 1-85153-269-2. 272 pp.
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Reproduction

Sexes are separate, and brittle stars tend to spawn at the end of the summer. The walls of the bursa are coelomic and contain gonads that discharge sex cells into the water for fertilization. The larvae is called the ophiopluteus and freely swims in the plankton until it transforms into the juvenile stage, when it settles on the ocean bottom. Brittle stars can also reproduce asexually; if a portion of the star breaks off and contains the central disk, it can regenerate into a new brittle star.(Balser 1998, Kistner 1999)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Ophiopholis aculeata

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 30 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

GAGCGTTGATTATTTTCAACAAACCATAAGGATATTGGAACCCTATACTTTATTTTTGGTGCTTGGGCCGGAACTGTAGGAACAGCTATG---AGTAATATTATACGTGTTGAGCTCTCACAACCTGGCTCACTAATTCAAGAT---GACCAAATATATAAAGTCATGGTAACTGCCCACGCCTTTGTAATGATATTTTTTATGGTTATGCCAATTATGATAGGAGGATTTGGAAAATGACTAGTCCCACTAATG---TTAGGAGCTCCCGACATGGCTTTCCCACGTATGAAAAAAATGAGATTTTGGCTTATACCTCCTGCTTTTATTCTTTTGTTAGCTTCCGCTGCAAATGAAGGCGGAGTCGGAACTGGATGAACAGTATATCCTCCTCTCTCAGGACCTACAGCACACGCTGGAGGCTGTGTAGATCTA---GCAATTTTTTCGCTTCACCTAGCAGGCGCATCTTCAATAATGGCTTCCATCAACTTTATAACAACAATTATAAATATGCGGAGACCTGGAATGACAATGGATCGACTTCCTCTCTTTGTTTGATCTATTTTCCTAACTACTATCCTACTTCTCTTATCCTTACCTGTTTTAGCAGGA---GCCATAACCATGCTTCTTACTGATCGTAATATAAACACAACCTTTTTTGATCCCACAGGAGGAGGAGACCCAATACTATTCCAACGCCTTTTTTGATTTTTTGGACACCCAGAAGTCTATATTCTTATACTACCAGGATTCGGAATAATATCCCACGTAGTAGCTAACCGGATGGGAAAGGCA---AACCCATTTGGCTACTTAGGAATGATGTATGCAATGATATCTATAGGAATATTAGGATTTATTGTATGAGCTCATCACATGTTTACCGTAGGAATGGATGTAGATACACGTGCTTACTTTACCGCTGCCACAATGATAATAGCCATCCCAACCGGGGTAAAGGTATTTAGTTGACTA---GCAACACTACAAGGAGTC---CATTTTCATGTAAGACCCTCTATTTTTTGGGCCTTAGGATTTATTTTTTTATTCACTGTCGGAGGACTAACCGGAATTATTCTTTCCAACTCCTCCCTAAAAGTGGCACTACATGACACATACTATGTAACCGCACATTTCCACTATGTC---CTCTCTATGGGAGCAGTATTTGCCATATTTGCCGGATTTAATCACTGGTTTACATTATTTACAGGAGCCAAAATTGATCGTGCGAGAGCTCTAGCTCACTTTTTTTTGATGTTTATTGGAGTTAATCTGACATTCTTTCCACAACACTTCCTAGGGTTAGCAGGAATGCCCCGA---CGATACTCCGACTACCCAGATGCATTTTCA---TTTTGAAACACAGTATCCTCACTAGGGTCACTTATTTCATTTATTGGAACCATTGGATTCCTAACCATTGTTGCACTCTCATTAACAACTAACAAAAAAAGC------ACTCACACAAAAGAAATATCAAAA
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ophiopholis aculeata

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 22
Specimens with Barcodes: 39
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

The greatest concern for brittle stars involves the conservation of their habitats. Pollution and disruption of the shores that they live in is harmful to not only the brittle stars but also to all the other marine animals dependent on this lifestyle. Currently hundreds of conservation organizations across the world are working to lower the level of risk being inflicted upon the marine environment. As long as people can be made aware of the dangers of pollution and the importance of conservation, the amount of marine life being destroyed can be minimized.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Brittle stars have not had much of an impact upon humans. During the eighteenth century, Indonesians would cook and eat the brittle stars, but today they are simply more of an ornamental species, mostly enjoyed through observation in their habitats. Unlike the starfish, brittle stars are not harvested for souvenirs due to the fragile nature of their structure.(Kistner 1999)

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