Types Of Starfish: 12 Incredible Sea Star Species

Did you know that there are over 2000 different types of starfish species in the world? We delve into the unique characteristics of 12 extraordinary starfish species, unveiling the wonders that make each of them truly remarkable.

Sea Star Species Classification

Contrary to their name, starfish, also known as sea stars, do not belong to the fish family. They are fascinating creatures that are members of the Asteroidea (phylum Echinodermata), making them close relatives of brittle stars, sand dollars, sea urchins, sea lilies and sea cucumbers.

Types of starfish infographic
Here we identify common sea star species which include families such as Asteriidae, Ophidiasteridae and Echinasteridae.

There are over 30 recognized families of starfish (sea stars) within the class Asteroidea. These families encompass a wide range of species, each with its own unique characteristics and traits. Some of the well-known starfish families include Asteriidae, Goniasteridae, Ophidiasteridae, and more. The diversity of starfish families highlights the wide array of species found in oceans around the world, each adapted to its specific ecological niche and habitat.

Starfish Characteristics

Typical starfish characteristics include 5 distinct arms, however there are some types of starfish which have many more. One of the most fascinating starfish facts is that they have the unique ability to regenerate their limbs, should they incur any loss through predator attacks or injury.

From their intriguing regenerative abilities to their varied habitats, each type of starfish showcases its own unique features that will leave you in awe of the wonders of the underwater world.

Let's dive in and explore these incredible sea star species together.

Sunflower Sea Star
Pycnopodia helianthoides

Photo of the Sunflower Sea Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) on rocky seabed with kelp forest in background
The huge sunflower sea star walks across the coral reef. With up to 24 arms, vibrant orange and purple hues, and a rough, textured surface resembling the petals of a sunflower.

The sunflower sea star is among the largest and fastest sea stars in the world with an impressive 1-meter arm span and 16-24 limbs. With over 15,000 tiny tube feet, it's like the speedster of starfish, gobbling up sea urchins, clams, and even other starfish. These friendly giants hang out in the Northeast Pacific's kelp-filled spots. But lately, they've been facing some tough times, the once-abundant sunflower sea star is now facing critical endangerment.

Since 2013, the sunflower sea star has faced a dire situation, with over five billion individuals succumbing to sea star wasting syndrome. This catastrophic event has led to a staggering 90% population decline, with the species disappearing from its southern range. While the exact cause of this disease remains unknown, warmer temperatures are believed to have played a significant role.

Scientific Name Pycnopodia helianthoides
Common Names Sunflower Starfish, Many-legged Sunflower, Twenty-rayed Star
Natural Habitat Rocky reefs and kelp forests in the North Pacific Ocean, from Alaska to California.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 24 inches (61 cm)
Number of Arms 16 to 24

Necklace Starfish
Fromia monilis

Photo of Necklace Starfish (Fromia monilis) walking over hard and soft corals
Necklace Starfish: Small, typically five arms, varying colors, and a distinctive pattern resembling beads on a necklace.

The necklace starfish is easily one of the most eye-catching sea star species you'll encounter. Their marbled bodies adorned with an array of captivating dots come together to create a mesmerizing appearance. With vibrant red tips on their arms, they not only charm you but also fend off potential predators.

These little marvels call the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific home, where they can be found at depths of up to 50 meters. Despite their small stature, reaching about 30 cm in diameter, they play a vital role in their ecosystem by dining on invertebrates and encrusting sponges, adding a touch of enchantment to their underwater world.


Scientific Name Fromia monilis
Common Names Necklace Sea Star, Tiled Starfish
Natural Habitat Coral reefs and rocky substrates in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, including the Indo-Pacific region.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 6 inches (15 cm)
Number of Arms 5

Granulated Sea Star
Choriaster granulatus

Chunky Granulated Sea Star (Choriaster granulatus) on dead coral
Granulated Sea Star: Five arms covered in small, granular spines, with colors ranging from reddish-brown to grayish.

Say hello to the charming granulated sea star, affectionately known as the "doughboy starfish." These cuties call the tropical waters of East Africa, the Indo-Pacific, and even as far as Papua New Guinea their home. Whether they're flying solo or forming a starfish squad, you'll often find them cozied up among coral sponges and rubble slopes in warm, shallow waters.

Identifying them is a breeze, thanks to their rounded bodies and five stubby arms, typically sporting a delightful pale pink hue with an attractive papillae pattern at the center.

Scientific Name Choriaster granulatus
Common Names Choriaster Starfish, Big-plated Sea Star, Doughboy Starfish
Natural Habitat Shallow reef areas, sandy bottoms, and seagrass beds in the Indo-Pacific region.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 5 inches (12.7 cm)
Number of Arms 5

Crown of Thorns Starfish
Acanthaster planci

Detail photo of Crown of Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci)
Crown of Thorns Starfish: Large, spiky, and crown-like appearance with 10-21 arms, typically in shades of purple and red.

The crown-of-thorns starfish, often abbreviated as COTS, is a giant among starfish, with lengths nearing 1 meter. These sea stars, though awe-inspiring, come with a prickly side, boasting venomous spikes that spell trouble for marine life and even humans. They're a well-traveled bunch, spanning the Indo-Pacific, from the Red Sea and East Africa to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, all the way to the west coast of Central America.

One remarkable fact about them is their remarkable appetite for living coral colonies. Armed with flexible bodies and hundreds of tube feet, an individual crown-of-thorns starfish can devour up to 6 square meters of reef per year, a behavior that can be particularly devastating when more than 20 of them join the feast.

Scientific Name Acanthaster planci
Common Names Crown of Thorns Star, COTS, Coral-feeding Starfish
Natural Habitat Coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Great Barrier Reef. They are known to be a coral predator.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 24 inches (61 cm)
Number of Arms 10 to 21

Chocolate Chip Sea Star
Protoreaster nodosus

Top view of a Chocolate Chip Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus) on sand
Chocolate Chip Sea Star: Round and flat with a chocolate chip-like texture, five arms, and a brownish-black color.

Despite being popular in the aquarium trade, the chocolate chip sea stars, scientifically known as Protoreaster nodosus, maintain a robust population. These charming creatures are native to the Indo-Pacific waters, with their delightful presence gracing places like Raja Ampat in Eastern Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. They thrive in shallow sandy areas and can also call coral reefs as deep as 30 meters home.

The chocolate chip sea star stands out with distinctive brown cones adorning its back, resembling none other than a chocolate chip cookie, earning them their amusing nickname. These starfish can reach lengths of up to 40 cm and dazzle in a range of hues, from light tan to deep red.

Scientific Name Protoreaster nodosus
Common Names Chocolate Chip Starfish, Horned Sea Star, Knobbly Sea Star
Natural Habitat Tropical coral reefs and sandy areas in the Indo-Pacific region.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 8 inches (20 cm)
Number of Arms 5

Common Starfish
Asterias rubens

Common Starfish (Asterias rubens) 
In shallow sea water
Common Starfish: Five arms with a spiny surface, typically orange or reddish-brown, and a central disc.

The common starfish, also known as the common sea star, Asterias rubens, holds the title of being the most prevalent and well-known starfish species in the northeast Atlantic. With five arms radiating from a central disc, it's the quintessential image of a starfish, and you have likely hovered over one in the shallows whilst snorkeling from the beach.

These friendly intertidal creatures bring a touch of the ocean to our shores, adorning rocky shores and sandy tidal pools. Sporting a delightful orange or reddish-brown hue, they're like little bursts of sunshine against the coastal backdrop.

Scientific Name Asterias rubens
Common Names Common Sea Star, Sugar Starfish, Northern Sea Star
Natural Habitat Rocky shores, intertidal zones, and shallow coastal areas in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 6 inches (15 cm)
Number of Arms 5

Firebrick Starfish
Asterodiscides truncatus

Photo of Firebrick Starfish (Asterodiscides truncatus) with reddish arms spread out fully
Firebrick Starfish: This species earnt its name due to its reddish hue and stone-like resemblance.

The firebrick starfish is a remarkable denizen of the deep sea. These captivating creatures derive their name from their striking reddish color, reminiscent of bricks in a blazing fire. With their stone-like appearance, they truly stand out in the mysterious world of the ocean depths.

This is no ordinary starfish; it thrives in the profound realms of the Atlantic Ocean, often dwelling at depths ranging from 500 to 2,500 meters below the surface. In these remote and dark habitats, they navigate the soft, sediment-laden seabed. Their unique adaptation to such extreme conditions makes them a captivating subject of study for marine scientists and an intriguing discovery for deep-sea explorers.

Scientific Name Asterodiscides truncatus
Common Names Firebrick Sea Star
Natural Habitat Typically found in the deep-sea environments eastern and southern Australia.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 12 inches (30 cm)
Number of Arms 5

Cushion Star
Culcita novaeguineae

Photo of a Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae) on coral reef
Cushion Star: Five arms, a cushion-like appearance, and typically reddish-brown to orange in color.

The sushion star, scientifically known as Culcita novaeguineae, is a delightful resident of tropical and subtropical coastal areas, bringing their unique cushion-like appearance to sandy bottoms and the crests of coral reefs. Their five arms radiate from a central disc, creating an inviting and friendly presence in their underwater world.

Cushion stars typically measure around 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) across, making them a delightful find for snorkelers and divers exploring coastal waters. Their coloration varies, from warm reddish-brown to inviting shades of orange, adding a touch of vibrancy to the ocean floor.

Scientific Name Culcita novaeguineae
Common Names Cushion Starfish, Pillow Cushion Star
Natural Habitat Tropical and subtropical coastal areas, including sandy bottoms and reef crests.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 20 inches (50 cm)
Number of Arms 5

Blue Linckia
Linckia laevigata

Vibrant Blue Linckia (Linckia laevigata) night photo
Blue Linckia: Usually five arms, vibrant blue or purple color, and a smooth, shiny texture.

Blue linckia, scientifically known as Linckia laevigata, are renowned for their striking blue or purple hues, adding a vivid splash of color to coral reefs and lagoons in the Indo-Pacific region. With typically five arms and a smooth, shiny texture, they resemble living gems against the backdrop of the ocean floor.

The blue linckia starfish makes its home on living coral reefs, particularly at the reef edge and slope, at depths ranging from 1 to 20 meters. Like its fellow starfish, it's an opportunistic eater, flipping its stomach inside out to digest food externally. Their diet includes a variety of offerings, such as deceased animals, small invertebrates, and detritus.

Scientific Name Linckia laevigata
Common Names Blue Linckia, Blue Star, Azure Sea Star, Comet Sea Star
Natural Habitat Coral reefs, lagoons, and rocky substrates in the Indo-Pacific region.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 12 inches (30 cm)
Number of Arms 5

Royal Starfish
Astropecten articulatus

Underwater photo of a Royal Starfish (Astropecten articulatus)
Royal Starfish: Resplendent in its decadent purple and golden hues, reclining gracefully on the sandy ocean floor, a true spectacle for the world to admire.

The royal starfish, a West Atlantic sea star, takes the spotlight along the southeast coast of the United States and especially in the Caribbean, where it's a familiar sight. Its bold and captivating colors make it a true star of the sea. Sporting shades of dark blue to purple with striking orange marginal plates, this starfish is a masterpiece of natural artistry. Its central region, known as the granulated disk, boasts a rich purple hue that seamlessly extends into its five arms. To complete its royal attire, the sea star flaunts an orange outline along its margin, adding a touch of vibrant contrast to its regal appearance.

Setting itself apart from other starfish, the royal starfish has distinct tube feet, lacking suckers but sporting pointed or rounded tips. These unique feet make them expert sand sleuths, using their arm tips to hunt for prey. When they find a tasty morsel like small clams, they devour it whole with remarkable swiftness, showcasing their efficiency as ocean floor hunters. These starfish aren't just stunning in appearance; they're also skilled and determined hunters of the deep.


Scientific Name Astropecten articulatus
Common Names Royal Sea Star, Beaded Star, Pointed Sea Star
Natural Habitat Sandy and muddy substrates in the Atlantic Ocean, from the Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 8 inches (20 cm)
Number of Arms Typically 5

Bat Star
Patiria miniata

Photo of a Bat Sea Star (Patiria miniata) taken in Baja California
Bat Star: Oval-shaped, typically with five arms, they come in vibrant shades like red, orange, and various mottled colors.

Native to the eastern Pacific Ocean, along the western coast of North America, from Alaska to Baja California. Bat stars thrive in intertidal zones and shallow coastal waters, often hiding in crevices and under rocks.

They are named for the webbing between their arms, which gives them a distinct "bat-like" appearance. While they typically have five arms, some can have between four to nine short, triangular arms. Their central disk is wider than their arms are long. Unlike some other sea stars, they lack suckers on their tube feet and instead use adhesive pads to cling to rocks and move around.

Scientific Name Patiria miniata
Common Names Bat Starfish, Sea Bat, Webbed Star, Broad-disk Star
Natural Habitat Rocky shores, tidal pools, and shallow coastal areas on the west coast of North America, from Alaska to Baja California.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 8 inches (20 cm)
Number of Arms Typically 5

Blood Star
Henricia sanguinolenta

Photo of Blood Star (Henricia sanguinolenta) taken on night dive in the North Atlantic Ocean
Blood Star: Five arms, usually in shades of red or orange, purple, lavender, and a rough texture with small spines.

The blood star is known for its striking appearance, featuring a deep red to maroon coloration. Its vibrant hue makes it stand out against the backdrop of the ocean floor. This species of sea star is commonly found along the western coast of North America, from Alaska to California. It is often discovered in somewhat exposed habitats, where it thrives amidst certain species of sponges.

Blood Stars distinguish themselves as one of the select sea star species that exhibit brooding behavior. They diligently care for their eggs until they reach independence, showcasing a remarkable and nurturing aspect of their reproductive strategy.

Scientific Name Henricia sanguinolenta
Common Names Blood Starfish, Northern Henrician, Bloody Henry
Natural Habitat Rocky shores, intertidal zones, and subtidal areas in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Size (Maximum Diameter) 12 inches (30 cm)
Number of Arms Typically 5

Starfish Q&A

Here we answer some of the most common starfish questions.

How many types of starfish in the world? There are over 2,000 known species of starfish (or sea stars) in the world.

How long do starfish live? In general, most starfish have relatively long lifespans for marine invertebrates, often ranging from 5 to 35 years. Some larger species can live even longer.

Are starfish venomous? Starfish are not typically considered venomous to humans. While they do not possess venomous stingers or specialized venom-producing structures like some other marine creatures (e.g. jellyfish or certain species of fish), starfish can have spines and sharp structures on their body and arms that can cause puncture wounds if mishandled.

How to identify the sex of starfish? Identifying the sex of a starfish can be challenging because they do not have external reproductive organs. Instead, starfish have separate male and female reproductive organs located internally within their bodies.

Why are so many starfish dying? A syndrome known as sea star wasting disease causes the animal to lose limbs and eventually disintegrate, leaving behind a pile of white goo.

If You Love Starfish!

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1 comment

I grew up on the New England coast. One of our favorite pastimes was who could find the different types of sea stars and we played with horse shoe crabs. Yes we played with them! Was unaware of the venom in their tails. Our grandfather told us not to step on them because we could get hurt. It’s surprising what a person can find as a kid when fears haven’t even begun to surface. Miss those days.

Deb June 10, 2021

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