Caribbean cushion starfish (Oreaster reticulatus)
by Marcia at Mayan Beach Garden in Mahahual
If you snorkel anywhere in the Mexican Caribbean from Cozumel to Mahahual you have probably seen the Cushion Starfish or Oreaster reticulatus CLASS: Sea Stars, Asteroidea. Also called Cushioned Star, it is common in the sea grass. This sea star is easily viewed and identified because of its size, color, thickness (hence the "cushion" title) and proximity to shore . It is often dried and sold as gifts in gift shops around the world.
According to the Smithsonian, Tropical Research center, O. reticulatus feeds primarily on microorganisms and the particulate matter associated with sand, sea grass, and algal substrates, but has the ability to graze on algae or prey upon other echinoderms. The stomach is everted to envelop prey, and digestion occurs outside the body.
Their "suckers" are extended and pieces of sea grass or other plants stuck to it. Six years ago, when I first came to the Southern part of Quintana Roo, I was told that the Starfish were harmful to coral so I am embarrassed to say that I killed a few. Some starfish species are dangerous to the coral reef, but the Cushion Starfish is not. They aren't as prevalent as they were when I first came here due to drying and selling them in shops. The species can get very large, often 20 inches across. The specimen in the picture is more like 10 inches across. When young, they are green so that they blend into the grass. The species has both male and female and they are hard to tell the difference.
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