The Mediterranean Red Sea Star is a species of starfish, a marine invertebrate in the genus Echinaster, family Echinasteridae, order Spinulosida, class Asteroidea, phylum Echinodermata and kingdom Animalia.
This species occurs in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, where it is one of the most common starfish, although virtually absent from some localities. Its northern limit is the English Channel, but only on the French side. It is found at depths of 1 to 250 metres in a wide range of habitats, including rocky, sandy and muddy bottoms, and sea grass meadows, especially Posidonia oceanica and Zostera. Sometimes it can also hide under rocks.
The colour of the Mediterranean Red Sea Star is a vivid red to red-orange. There are usually 5 (rarely 4, 6 or 7) slender, cylindrical arms connected to the small central disc which are 8 to 15 cm long. The average arm span is 10 to 20 cm with a maximum of 30 cm. The ventral ambulacral grooves of each arm, carrying two rows of tube feet, can be closed. The tube feet have suckers, longitudinal retracting muscles and are erected by water pressure of the water-vascular system. The surface of the whole animal is armed with small spines of 1.5 mm length but which are completely covered by mucus of the glandular skin giving the body a soapy texture. There are also irregularly distributed elevations and craters from which the animal can extend its deep papulae (red gills) which help for respiration.
Eggs are directly developing to young starfishes. There is no larval state.
This photo was taken at a depth of 8m at Xwejni Bay on Gozo’s north coast.
Photo taken by Brian Azzopardi