Starfish of Key West

A Key West glass bottom boat tour is a wonderful way for divers and non-divers alike to be introduced to the waters surrounding this chain of tiny Florida islands, and to all the sights they contain. One of the more interesting and unique little sea animals a visitor on the boat tour might encounter is a starfish. Neither a fish nor a star, it nevertheless earns its name through its five armed, star-like appearance. Though this five armed image of a starfish is the most well known, some species of starfish can actually have many more appendages. It simply depends on the specie. With hundreds of living species, snorkelers and divers may find a new kind to admire on each trip.

Starfish Appearance

While all starfish are alike in that they have five or more arms and a central mouth, in other ways they can vary greatly from specie to specie. They can come in a rainbow of different colors, from a sandy yellow to bright pinks and blues. Many are able to regrow arms that have been discarded or torn off - some can even regrow their entire bodies. They can also come in wildly different sizes, though most starfish are only about 6 inches long.

The largest of the group, the sunflower star, can weigh as much as 11 pounds and is over 3 feet long. It also, as befits its size, has almost five times the normal number of arms, the most of any other starfish. Another large starfish is Mitgardia xandaros, which has longer arms but a much smaller body. The smallest starfish is not even the size of a penny and is called the paddle-spined seastar, an intimidating name for such a tiny animal.

Starfish Eating Habits

A starfish's mouth is in the center of its body, though in some species the digestive system can also occupy space in the arms. While their diet and eating habits vary between species, in some of the starfish the stomach can actually emerge from the mouth and begin to digest prey before it is even consumed. This allows them to eat animals that may not otherwise fit into their mouths.

Oysters and clams are part of the diet of many starfish. They are able to pry the shells open far enough to allow their stomach entry, and from there the meal begins. Certain types of starfish are also filter feeders, which helps to clean the surrounding waters. Sea worms and snails are also included in many of their diets.

Starfish Habitats

Starfish can be found in every ocean in the world. They cannot survive in freshwater, but are otherwise an extremely diverse group geographically. There are different types of starfish living in the frigid waters of the North Sea as well as the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They can be found in shallow waters and deep on the ocean bottom. With such diversity, it will take even ardent divers a lifetime to see every starfish.