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During last few weeks we received several questions about predatory starfish so I thought I would update our article about these predators. At GARF we have discovered there are several different types of Polyp eating starfish that can reproduce in reef aquariums. These starfish have reproduction sizes that range from a small blue starfish that gets no larger than one-quarter inch across to a large Brown starfish that is almost an inch wide.
The first picture on this page shows starfish that reproduces at about the size of a dime. This starfish is capable of destroying large colonies of Acropora. If you notice that your Acropora colonies start to turn bright white at the base in a sharp edged pattern you may have an infestation of the starfish. It is important that you remove the coral and search under the base for these starfish. This damage looks different from bleaching because the damage is very localized and it increases each day. This damage can cause bacteria to infect the damaged areas and this can cause the lose of the entire head. Many of the starfish varieties prefer Stylophora and Pocillopora. It is important to watch for white patches at the base of these corals.
Sally Jo's I have been using harlequin shrimp to control the starfish for over one year. When we first introduced Harlequin shrimp to a new reef tank we feed it starfish with tweezers for several weeks. After the shrimp becomes acclimated to the reef tank it is able to find starfish for itself. Sally Jo's shrimp have survived in her reefs for over 8 months.
Several people have argued that these starfish are harmless, but we have yet to find any that will not eat coral polyps. It is our recommendation that if you discover this type of starfish in your reef aquarium that you remove it as soon as possible. We have documented these type of starfish eating small polyp stony corals, Xenia , green stars, and several types of soft leather corals.
Here are some great e-mails that we received in answer to our questions about the starfish and the source for tweezers.
From: "Jeff Reed"
Subject: Starfish that kill coral
Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 03:14:59 -0500
I, too, have had the exact same experience with these little critters except mine were a blotchy tan, black-spottedİand cream color. I noticed an area of my tannish-green acropora dying at the bottom where it was attached to the live rock. After looking very closely for about 2-3 minutes I finally saw the starfish and immediately pulled it off the coral and dried it for a keepsake. The starfish I found was a little over a half of an inch in diameter and blended in well with the surrounding coral and rock. Keep your eyes open if one of your Acroporas starts dying around the base, it's probably a starfish like these.
----- Original Message -----
From: "C. Madsen" Sent: Wednesday,
March 01, 2000 5:29 AM
Subject: Re: Starfish
I have these little blue and white starfish in my tank. They don't look as
large as the ones in your tanks. They are white with tiny blue spots on them. I don't
have any SPS coral, but I do have some Zoanthids and sea star. I haven't noticed them on
the coral, and they have been in the tank since before I added any corals. The largest
one I have seen is about .25" maybe even .50". They are really small, but a couple of
them have different length legs, but most of them are symmetrical. If these are a danger
let me know, if not I think they are kinda cool and would like to keep them. Thanks.
PS. I've emailed before about Sarcophytons
We are very interested in getting some of these for our research.
I am working on a small mail container, please call toll free any day after
3:00 so we can talk.
Director of Research
From: "Christopher Madsen"
Subject: Re: Starfish
Date: Sat, 4 Mar 2000 21:54:10 -0800
Thanks for all of the advice you gave me on Thurs.
I have been pulling a bunch of starfish out of my tank. I found a bunch on my green sea
star soft coral. I will send you some once I get a test tube.
I was thinking of a possible solution to the problem. Have you tried a harlequin
shrimp (Hymenocera sp.)? I know these eat starfish almost exclusively. They will go after
brittle stars also, but maybe they would eat those little starfish if they are in
abundance. I also know that there are some pistol shrimp that eat echinoderms, that may
also work to control the starfish, like peppermint shrimp control Aiptasia. I don't know
if it would, but it might be worth a try to stop them from damaging corals.
Plus Harlequin Shrimp are stunning!
Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2000 21:46:20 -0700
From:"Chubby and Imogene Tatum"
Subject: Re: Coral eating starfish
I have asked many different people about these starfish trying to get help and they
say they have never seen any like the ones I describe. The ones you show in your
article look brown. Mine are a light green, but they look just like the ones in the
picture other than the color. I have been trying to pick them off with tweezers
but they multiply very quickly. It is a daily job. Have you found anything
that might eat them? They have killed all of my bubble corals in that tank. I really
enjoy reading your article and seeing your pictures.
Date: Sun, 19 Mar 2000 11:39:23 -0700
From: "Chubby and Imogene Tatum"
< Re: Damaging starfish
In the article I just read again about your findings of harmful starfish, you asked if
anyone had a suggestion for tweezers to harvest them. Well, I have them also and
mine are green. Yours look brown on the screen, but they look just like that.
I have been fighting them for about a year. You think you have all of them and then
in a week you have them all over again. I use a pair of tweezers that I think are
wonderful for this purpose. They have a website and it
www.tweezerman.com. It is the one that is called SPLINTERTWEEEZE.
I find these to do the trick.
From: "Jose A. Venereo"
Subject: Stainless Steel Tweezers
Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2000 09:17:27 -0400
I was reading your article on Marine Fish Monthly. You requested if anyone had
information on a source of high quality steel tweezers,
to let you know. Well, here it is:
Arista Surgical Supply Co., Inc.
67 Lexington Ave,
New York, NY 10010-1898
This company is widely used by Veterinarians. The item you specifically want are the
12" Dressing forceps (Item#19-25). They are $15.00. If you have any questions about any
other instruments fell free to contact me by e-mail
I hope this information is helpful to you. Take care.
Jose A. Venereo DVM
Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2000 00:37:05 +0000
From: "Mike "
To: "(GARF) Leroy & Sally Jo Headlee"
HI Leroy....i found some more tweezers for you.
This site has loads of em. I'll link you to the
ones I think you will like.
Look under specimen forceps. The 12" ones are $12.50.
I still have some green slimers for you.
From: Gerald Heslinga
Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2000 03:16:45 EDT
Subject: Name that starfish!
Many years ago I worked with my sensei Dr. Masashi Yamaguchi in Guam and Palau on
Indo-Pacific starfish. Last night I saw your great article at garf.org about the small
coral eating species, and asked him for an ID. I had forgotten which species it is. He
knew though, after seeing your cool pics. Here is his reply:
Good to hear from you.
The starfish is Asterina anomala and is common on many reefs in the Indo-Pacific.
This fissiparous* starfish is carnivorous on sessile animals including corals.
It usually occurs under rocks
on reef flats. The mottled coloration makes the starfish very cryptic:
you must be alert to find it under rocks.
I am well aware that many aquarium keepers are keen to have corals,
so that your business must be in good shape.
For the past five years, I have been working on sandy beach mollusks,
mainly Donax spp.
I am preparing a paper on recruitment and growth variations in D. cuneatus.
Too bad, you don't have this fascinating group of bivalves on your island.
Being happy working on what you like is the best thing in life. Take care,
FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS WE HAVE WORKED VERY HARD TO PURCHASE, TRADE, AND SAVE AS MANY TYPES OF CORALS AS WE CAN.
FROM THE WORD FISSION
*fis0sion (f3é4sh2n) n.
1. The act or process of splitting into parts.
2. A nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus, especially a heavy nucleus such as an isotope of uranium, splits into fragments, usually two fragments of comparable mass, with the evolution of from 100 million to several hundred million electron volts of energy.
3. Biology. An asexual reproductive process in which an organism divides into two or more independently maturing organisms.
We are having a special on all of the coral cuttings. WHEN YOU PURCHASE 5 AT THE REGULAR PRICE OF $100 WE WILL GIVE YOU TWO FREE CORALS!.
We will continue to provide the most current data on reef farming for both education and profit.
Sometimes I forget how fun it can be to watch the Reef Janitorstm as they go about their duties. It is important to have the mixture of crabs and snails custom picked for your reef aquarium. Both Leonel and Brian are experts in algae control. You can be sure that they will choose the right mixture from GARF's extensive collection of algae eaters.
The GARF staff knows that each aquarium is different and they will ask about the size, lighting, and age of your reef. Summer is the most important time to add extra janitorstm because there is more light and the reef will be a bit warmer. When you order any Reef Janitor pactm you can pick a free coral or two pounds of GARF's FAMOUS GRUNGE LIVE SAND ACTIVATOR Reef Janitors tm or call toll free 800-600-6163.