Sunflower Sea Stars

Pycnopodia helianthoides

Sunflower sea stars are native to Oregon but currently are extremely rare. These large echinoderms have 24 arms when they mature and can grow to be three feet wide. They range in color from brown to purple to orange and yellow. Sunflower sea stars can move at a surprisingly quick pace of a meter per minute thanks to some 15,000 tube feet.  Between 2013 and 2017 nearly 100 percent of Oregon’s sunflower sea stars were killed off by Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS). The exact cause is not known but it has been highly detrimental to sunflower sea stars which are a keystone species. This is because they are one of the main predators of purple sea urchins. Sunflower sea stars can swallow purple urchins whole and expel the urchin test after digesting the rest of the urchin. Follow this link to our Sunflower Sea Star Project Page to learn how you can help. Sunflower sea stars live in the rocky intertidal and kelp forests, maintaining balance by feeding on purple urchins and other grazers that feed on kelp.