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Marthasterias glacialis

Marthasterias glacialis

Spiny starfish

   Marthasterias glacialis is a starfish of 30 to 40 cm in diameter but it may be up to 80 cm. Its surface is covered by linear papillae from which arise large conical spines surrounded by numerous pedicellariae easily visible under magnifying glass. The colour is variable: whitish, bluish, pink, purple, greenish-grey or brown. It has five cylindrical tapering arms with a photosensitive ocella at their tips. For this reason, the spiny starfish often rolls up its arm-tips to detect movements. It feeds on various animals, dead or alive, such as molluscs, shellfish, fish or other echinoderms. It is a voracious starfish which may cause important damages in mussel and oyster farmings. Very common on Brittany coasts, it has seen its population grow very quickly because of its great regeneration ability: regularly caught in fishers'nets, they were torn to pieces and thrown back to sea by fishermen firmly believing that thus the starfish would die!
It lives on rocky bottoms from surface to depths up to 180 m. It is found in the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel, the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.


 (source : European Register of Marine Species)

  • Echinodermata [Phylum]
  • Asterozoa [Subphylum]
  • Stelleroidea [Class]
  • Asteroidea [Subclass]
  • Forcipulatida [Order]
  • Asteriidae [Family]
  • Marthasterias glacialis (Linnaeus, 1758)

Page glossary

Pedicellariae : Minute jawed elements of sea urchins and starfish used to clean body surface and as defensive means.


Top photograph :
© Wilfried Bay-Nouailhat. Published with author's kind permission : 
Marthasterias glacialis, Baie de Concarneau, South-Brittany, West of France. Depth 5 meters.
Text :  Anne Bay-Nouailhat © 2005-2020.
Translation :  Anne Bay-Nouailhat © 2007-2020.

How to cite this page in publications

Bay-Nouailhat A., September 2005, Description of Marthasterias glacialis, Available on line at http://www.european-marine-life.org/30/marthasterias-glacialis.php, consulted on 10 July 2020.
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