With everyone going Olympic crazy these days, it seems fitting to discuss ocean athletes, but instead of talking about the already famously fast bluefin tuna, I started wondering about a much slower ocean animal…the sea star. If sea stars lined up for a race, what species would win? It seems safe to say that very few people have bothered to think about this and most likely the answer varies in different parts of the world.
In Southern California, the fastest star-shaped animal is probably the spiny brittle star, a close relative of the sea star that wriggles and squiggles all over the place. Based on my observations, a brittle star can’t move in a straight line to save its life and if you want to win a race, you have to be able to move in a straight line, not all over the place. So even though brittle stars can really get around quickly, they wouldn’t be the best athletes, they are more suited for disco dancing.
That leaves the spiny sand star or Astropecten armatus as the next best candidate for racing in my opinion. The spiny sand star can move! Below are three photos taken within seconds of each other tracking the movements of a spiny sand star; keep your eyes on the shells to see how fast it’s moving. What’s pretty cool about spiny sand stars is that they can move above the sand’s surface or below incognito style. Moving below the sand’s surface is great for hunting the spiny sand star’s favorite prey, olive snails (which they can swallow whole!), and it provides great cover from predators. For racing though, it’s best to stay above the sand’s surface, it wouldn’t be good to have an athlete suddenly vanish.
So I declare the spiny sand star the gold medal winner! Unless anyone else has any suggestions…