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Velcro sea stars spawning at the Alaska Sealife Center

The day-length, the light, the water temperature, the mood was apparently just right this afternoon. Two Velcro Sea Stars, also known as Fish-eating Stars (Stylasterias forreri), began spawning at the Alaska Sealife Center touch tank station. It was amazing! The  purple-black Velcro Sea Star revealed her gender as a mass of zillions of tiny white eggs oozed out of specialized ducts located between the arms (armpits). In response, a pale yellow Velcro Sea Star male nearby released a cloud of sperm into the water, turning it cloudy.

In the ocean, the broadcast spawning will result in fertilized eggs that become part of the zooplankton, and some will eventually grow into adults. Here in the touch tank, the ocean water is continually filtered, so their effort will probably not result in any embryos.

In addition to its usual prey of snails and chitons, the Velcro Sea Star is able to capture small fish that accidentally land on it with its powerful plier-like grabbers that cover its upper surface. The grabbers, arms, and tube feet coordinate to pass the fish to the mouth located in the center of the underside. To humans, the grabbers feel sticky like Velcro, hence the name.

When stressed, such as being handled, the sea star may release one or more arms, which will eventually regenerate. Pretty impressive marine animals!

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This is an uncommon sea star, found on the Pacific coast, mostly in deep water at the head of fjords, from Alaska to southern California. How wonderful to be able to witness such an incredible event at the Alaska Sealife Center!

Check out the puffins and other seabirds, Steller sea lions, rescued baby otter, fish, and all the other fascinating marine life; bring a friend and consider becoming a member!

Carol Griswold

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