Why Do Starfish Have Different Colors?
Starfish is one of the most colorful bunch of sea creatures that many kids love to play with, seeing as they come in different shapes and sizes and have beautiful and mesmerizing color patterns. Therefore, they are one of the most sought-after souvenirs from the ocean, which is not a good practice to keep them as souvenirs, but their intensely colorful nature makes them the target for such practices worldwide.
If you’re someone who is fascinated by starfishes, then perhaps you want to know why there are different colors of starfish. That’s why in today’s blog, you will know plenty of interesting facts about the colors of starfish.
Understanding the Life of a Starfish
Starfish or sometimes called sea stars are invertebrates which means they are cold-blooded animals without a backbone in their skeletal structure. Starfish belong to a group of animals called Echinoderms, just like sea urchins, sand dollars, sea lilies, and as well as sea cucumbers and subsequently classified as Asteroidea.
They comprise about 1,500 species of starfish around the world’s different oceans, may it be the cold polar waters to the hot tropical waters. They can be seen along the seashore down to abyssal depths, 20,000 feet below the surface.
This alone shows just how diverse Starfishes can be with how they look, from typically having five arms to Starfishes with more than 50 arms called Labidaster annulatus. This species of Starfish lives in the cold waters of Antarctica that look very alien-like with its many arms walking the seabed. In addition, many of its species are brightly colored in different shades of red or orange, while others are purple, gray, brown or blue.
Starfish in Different Colors
The question of why they come in all different colors is not definite and clear to scientists, but studies of just one species of starfish might help answer why Starfish come in a wide array of colors.
Research published during 2006 and 2007 on Ochre sea stars asks how a single species can have a variation of colors from one another where they consider all three factors that we will try to discuss briefly. In this section, you will get a better understanding of the different colors of starfish.
A 2006 paper from researchers at the University of British Columbia, University of Washington and the University of California tried to determine whether the factor of environment played a significant role in the unique coloration of the single species. These researchers conducted studies of ochre sea star populations from Southern California to Alaska.
They found that along the Pacific coast of California, Oregon and Washington were most commonly brown stars representing 68 to 90 percent of the population in these waters. But surprisingly, in the Puget Sound and isolated channels of British Columbia, 95 percent of the stars were purple.
Genes of Starfish
While conducting genetic analyses of these populations, they have concluded that there is no evident relationship between genes and their coloration. However, they have found a convincing link between the stars’ diet and their color.
Researchers argued that the stars who have access to mussels absorb red and orange pigments known as carotenoids. However, the stars that had access to mostly barnacles were colored, for the most part, purple, lacking the carotenoids that earlier explained for the red and orange pigments the previous group had.
The researchers did not rule out the possibility that genetics could still have a fundamental cause of their different colors. However, they concluded that in addition to their color being a genetic component, coloration is more likely to be largely controlled by their diet and environment, which would explain the individuals of a population with a different color than the dominant color.
Size of a Starfish
While looking at a large sample of these stars, they found a different possibility of coloration wherein bigger stars were more likely to be orange. And individual stars who lost arms can regenerate and show that the new growing arms were frequently showing a slight coloration of purple from the rest of its body.
This newfound occurrence suggested an argument from researchers that purple might be the “default” color of the stars. Meaning the stars might start purple and turn orange which also coincides with the evidence from the diet difference shown in the previous study that carotenoids in their diet give the stars an orange coloration.
The differing perspective between the two research conducted separately may point to all these factors of environment, diet, and genetics as an answer for the coloration of the stars. But, first, researchers must point out that further study is needed to isolate each factor from one another to have concrete evidence that not one factor plays a more important role than the other.
Looking at how both these conclusions don’t give clear answers to the question. There have also been theories that look at how much exposure to sunlight to the stars affect their coloration.
At the same time, some propose that from years of evolution, much like many animals who exhibit different colors of a single species might be how it is a defense mechanism to avoid being eaten by predators. A good example of this is frogs that are more brightly colored are more likely to be more poisonous.
Starfish are a very beautiful part of the ocean ecology, and knowing how they get their colors is a very interesting topic that hasn’t been fully answered in years. Now that you understand the colors of starfish, you must also understand that they shouldn't be only seen as decorations and souvenirs but rather be appreciated at a distance to let them thrive.
Let us also give them the chance to populate and preserve the beauty of our oceans for generations to come. Like another part of the marine life population, starfishes deserve to live, and we can make it possible.
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