Starfish species identification guide

A star-shape invertebrate, symbol of the seas and oceans

Starfish (or sea stars) are one of the symbols of the oceans. There are about 1500 species of starfish, which occurs in all the seas and oceans of the world.

Their star-shaped body (typically with 5 arms, but sometimes more) and their bright colors make them one of the snorkelers’ favorite sightings.

Blue sea star
The blue sea star is one of the most common starfish in the Indo-Pacific. here, photographed in Siladen Island, Indonesia.

Most starfish are totally harmless, but learn to identify the crown-of-thorns starfish. These colored stars with 10 to 20 arms proliferate periodically in the Indo-Pacific, where they are a voracious predator of coral. In addition, they are very venomous and you have to absolutely avoid touching them.

Which species of starfish are the most commonly seen at snorkeling depth?

In the Caribbean, the cushion starfish is the most abundant species. Easy to find even at shallow depths, it is possible to encounter hundreds of them at some spots, forming real “carpets” on the sand.

The horned starfish is common in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Coral Triangle shallow seagrass beds. Throughout the Indo-Pacific, you cannot miss the blue sea star, solitary but very common on shallow flats, sometimes even a few meters from beaches.

Cushion sea stars on a sandy bed
If you snorkel the Caribbean, you are likely to find cushion sea stars, very common in the region’s seagrass meadows and sandy beds. In this picture, 4 specimens noted in Starfish Alley, Roatán.

In the Mediterranean, the red starfish is easy to find, its bright red color contrasting with the dark rocky bottoms. If you visit the Galápagos Islands, you’ll easily see two nice species there: the Galápagos starfish and the chocolate starfish, with a pretty yellow body and black spines.

Caribbean & Western Atlantic Ocean starfish

Indian & Pacific Oceans starfish

Eastern Pacific Ocean starfish

Mediterranean & Eastern Atlantic Ocean starfish

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