Brittle Star vs. Starfish

What's the Difference?

Brittle stars and starfish are both marine invertebrates belonging to the same phylum, Echinodermata. However, they differ in several aspects. Brittle stars have long, slender arms that are highly flexible and can be easily broken off, hence their name. In contrast, starfish have shorter, sturdier arms that are less prone to breakage. Another difference lies in their locomotion; brittle stars use their arms to crawl along the ocean floor, while starfish use tube feet located on their underside. Additionally, starfish have a central disk-shaped body, while brittle stars have a distinct central body connected to their arms. Despite these differences, both species play important roles in marine ecosystems and exhibit fascinating adaptations to their environments.


AttributeBrittle StarStarfish
Body ShapeSlender and elongatedStar-shaped
Arms5 or more, slender and flexible5 or more, thick and rigid
MovementMove by wriggling their armsMove by tube feet and water vascular system
RegenerationCan regenerate lost armsCan regenerate lost arms and central disc
FeedingUse tube feet to capture food particlesUse tube feet and arms to capture prey
RespirationThrough tube feet and skin gillsThrough tube feet and skin gills
HabitatFound in deep-sea, rocky areasFound in various marine habitats

Further Detail


Within the vast and diverse world of marine life, two fascinating creatures stand out: the Brittle Star and the Starfish. While they may appear similar at first glance, these echinoderms possess distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will delve into the characteristics of both species, highlighting their physical features, habitats, feeding habits, reproduction methods, and ecological roles.

Physical Features

Brittle Stars, scientifically known as Ophiuroidea, are characterized by their long, slender arms that radiate from a central disk. These arms, which can range from five to twenty, are highly flexible and covered in spines. In contrast, Starfish, or Asteroidea, have a more rounded shape with five or more arms extending from a central disk. Their arms are often broader and more robust, adorned with tube feet and small spines.

Both species possess a water vascular system, a unique feature of echinoderms, which allows them to move and capture prey. However, Brittle Stars have a distinct advantage in terms of flexibility and speed due to their slender arms, enabling them to navigate through crevices and cracks with ease. Starfish, on the other hand, rely on their tube feet and muscular arms to slowly crawl along the ocean floor.


Brittle Stars are predominantly found in deep-sea environments, often dwelling in crevices, burrows, or hiding among coral reefs. They are known to inhabit both cold and warm waters, with some species even thriving in extreme conditions near hydrothermal vents. Starfish, on the other hand, are more commonly found in shallow coastal waters, although they can also be found in deeper regions. They are often seen clinging to rocks, pilings, or coral reefs, and some species can even tolerate brackish water.

Feeding Habits

When it comes to feeding, Brittle Stars and Starfish exhibit different strategies. Brittle Stars are primarily scavengers and filter feeders, using their flexible arms to capture organic particles and small prey. They extend their arms into the water column, creating a fan-like motion to collect food particles and direct them towards their mouth located on the underside of their central disk.

Starfish, on the other hand, are opportunistic predators. They have a unique feeding mechanism called the cardiac stomach, which they can evert through their mouth and into the shells of bivalves or other prey. Once inside, the stomach releases digestive enzymes, breaking down the prey's tissues, which are then absorbed back into the stomach. Some species of Starfish also feed on detritus or dead organisms.


Both Brittle Stars and Starfish have fascinating reproductive methods. Brittle Stars reproduce sexually, with separate male and female individuals. Males release sperm into the water, which is then captured by females using specialized tube feet. Fertilization occurs internally, and the females release eggs into the water, where they are fertilized by the captured sperm. The resulting larvae undergo a planktonic stage before settling on the ocean floor and developing into adults.

Starfish, on the other hand, have a unique ability to regenerate lost body parts, including their arms. Some species can even reproduce asexually through a process called fragmentation. When a Starfish loses an arm, it can regenerate a new one from the remaining portion of the central disk. In some cases, the detached arm can also regenerate into a new individual, resulting in two Starfish from one.

Ecological Roles

Both Brittle Stars and Starfish play crucial roles in marine ecosystems. Brittle Stars are important scavengers, helping to clean up organic debris and recycling nutrients. They also serve as prey for various marine organisms, including fish and crustaceans. Additionally, some species of Brittle Stars form symbiotic relationships with other organisms, such as anemones or sponges, providing them with protection while benefiting from the food particles they capture.

Starfish, on the other hand, are considered keystone species in some ecosystems. They help control populations of bivalves, such as mussels and clams, by preying on them. This predation prevents these bivalves from overpopulating and outcompeting other species. Starfish also contribute to the health of coral reefs by feeding on algae that can smother corals, promoting their growth and survival.


In conclusion, while Brittle Stars and Starfish may share a common phylum and exhibit some similarities, they possess distinct attributes that make them unique. From their physical features and habitats to their feeding habits, reproduction methods, and ecological roles, these echinoderms have evolved to thrive in different environments and fulfill different ecological niches. Understanding and appreciating the diversity of these fascinating creatures contributes to our overall knowledge of marine ecosystems and the delicate balance of life within them.

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