A nightmare creature

From the annals of monstrous pests: the crown-of-thorns starfish, in the Economist‘s issue of the 11th: “Coral-killers: A dilemma for the Great Barrier Reef’s ecosystem”:

Since scientists first raised the alarm 50 years ago about crown-of-thorns starfish chomping their way through the Great Barrier Reef, there have been three big outbreaks. A fourth, perhaps the most serious, is now under way. The Australian Institute of Marine Science rates the “massive explosion” of this lethal starfish strain as second only to cyclones as a cause of the reef’s decline. Several interventions, including fencing coral zones and using navy divers to remove starfish by hand, have in the past proved ineffectual. But scientists at James Cook University in Townsville, a city facing the reef, may finally have found a way to fight back.

Divers have started to inject starfish with a solution made of salts from cattle-bile. A single shot of the substance, discovered by chance during research into starfish diseases, triggers a lethal reaction.


The creature on a coral.

From Wikipedia:

The crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci, is a large, multiple-armed starfish (or seastar) that usually preys upon hard, or stony, coral polyps (Scleractinia). The crown-of-thorns receives its name from venomous thorn-like spines that cover its upper surface, or the crown of thorns. It is one of the largest sea stars in the world.

A. planci has a very wide Indo-Pacific distribution. It occurs at tropical and subtropical latitudes from the Red Sea and the east African coast across the Indian Ocean, and across the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of Central America. It occurs where coral reefs or hard coral communities occur in this region.

… The adult crown-of-thorns is a carnivorous predator that usually preys on reef coral polyps. It climbs onto a section of living coral colony using the large number of tube feet on its oral surface and flexible body. It fits closely to the surface of the coral, even the complex surfaces of branching corals. It then extrudes its stomach out through its mouth over the surface to virtually its own diameter. The stomach surface secretes digestive enzymes that allow the starfish to absorb nutrients from the liquefied coral tissue. This leaves a white scar of coral skeleton which is rapidly infested with filamentous algae. An individual starfish can consume up to 6 square metres (65 sq ft) of living coral reef per year.

Another view of the creature, emphasizing its venomous spines:


Let’s hope the cattle-bile treatment works.

One Response to “A nightmare creature”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    They used to inject them with formaldehyde. I had no idea they were present on the west coast of Central America – where they could cross a sea-level canal to the Caribbean – there’s been concern about sea snakes doing that.

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