Life in the Tidepool: Sunflower Sea Stars
By Cyndi Mudge
Published: 02/29/2012  Updated: 08/08/2019
Photo by Gary Hayes

The Sunflower Sea Star may have a flowery name but its reputation is fierce.

Ferocious, quick, and nimble: these are the traits that have earned the Sunflower Sea Star a reputation for being a natural born hunter. They sport between 16 and 24 arms equipped with approximately 15,000 suckers that enable them to travel at speeds up to a meter per minute. This makes them a formidable foe as they hunt for sea urchins, sand dollars, small fish, clams, snails and sea cucumbers.

The Sunflower Sea Star is also an escape artist with its unusual ability to easily shed its arms when attacked, allowing it a quick escape from predators. The missing arms grow back within just a few weeks. Their velvet soft bodies belie their carnivorous nature, and their brilliant orange to purple coloring is art in motion as these silent predators stalk their prey.

Sunflower Sea Stars are primarily found in the Pacific Ocean ranging from Alaska to Washington, Oregon and southern California. They thrive in sub and inter-tidal regions rich in seaweed and kelp, but require higher tides to support their large bodies which can grow up to three feet in diameter.
Life in the Tidepool: Sunflower Sea Stars