Cushion star

Cushion star ©Matt Slater

Cushion Star

Scientific name: Asterina gibbosa
It's easy to see where this small starfish got its name - it really does look like a little star-shaped cushion. Keep an eye out under rocks next time you're rockpooling!

Species information

Statistics

Diameter: 5cm Lifespan: 7 years

Conservation status

Common

When to see

January to December

About

A small, thick starfish with 5 short arms, the Cushion Star is found on all western and southern coasts of the UK. They can be found on rocky shores, hiding under rocks or in crevices during the daytime and also live on the seabed down to depths of around 100m. They come out at night to feed, feasting on whatever they find. The main diet of Cushion Stars is the film of microscopic algae and bacteria that covers rocks, though it has also been found to scavenge on decaying seaweed and animals. Cushion Stars are echinoderms - which means "spiny skinned". They truly live up to this with a body covered in short orange spines.

How to identify

A small starfish that grows up to 5cm, with 5 (rarely 4 or 6) very short, broad arms. It has a puffy appearance, like a cushion. The dorsal surface is rough with projecting spines. The ventral surface is flat, with the mouth at the centre. Each of the mouth's plates bear two spines. Its colour varies but is most commonly pale orange, brown, green or cream.

Distribution

Common on all British coasts but sparse in the North-East and not recorded from Lincolnshire around to Hampshire.

Did you know?

All Cushion Stars are born male! It is a "protandrous hermaphrodite", meaning that small or young individuals are males but when individuals increase beyond a certain size, they develop into females.

How people can help

When rockpooling, be careful to leave everything as you found it - replace any seaweed you move out of the way, put back any crabs or fish and ensure not to scrape anything off its rocky home. If you want to learn more about our rockpool life, Wildlife Trusts around the UK run rockpool safaris and offer Shoresearch training - teaching you to survey your local rocky shore. The data collected is then used to protect our coasts and seas through better management or through the designation of Marine Protected Areas. The Wildlife Trusts are working with sea users, scientists, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust or checking out our Action Pages.