Ophiopholis aculeata (Linnaeus, 1767)

Common name(s): Daisy brittle star, Painted brittle star, Ubiquitous brittle star

Phylum Echinodermata
 Class Ophiuroidea
  Order Ophiurida
   Suborder Gnathophiurina
    Family Ophiactidae
Ophiopholis aculeata from a subtidal rock, Deception Pass, WA
(Photo by: Dave Cowles, July 2006)
Description:  This brittle star is distinctive in this area because the plates on the aboral surface of the rays are separated from one another by smaller supplementary plates (photo).  The rays have five spines on the lateral plates (photo), the middle of which is the largest. Color and pattern are extremely variable.  The color usually includes red stripes or blotches, usually interspersed with brown but sometimes with green.  Flora and Fairbanks state that it can sometimes be black and white or gray and brown.  The oral surface is whitish (photo).

How to Distinguish from Similar Species:  This is the only local species of brittle stars that has the supplementary plates.

Geographical Range:  Worldwide, especially north temperate.  On our coasts, Bering Sea to Santa Barbara, CA; most abundant in the north.

Depth Range:  Lower intertidal to 2000 m

Habitat:  Rocky intertidal or kelp holdfasts

Biology/Natural History:  This is the main species common on rocky shores in our area.  Others can be found in gravelly areas or in areas with boulders interspersed with sand.  They feed by capturing food with their tube feet, by picking up detritus, or by mucus secreted by the rays.  Predators include fish and harlequin ducks.  Ovaries are red and testes are white.  In our area they may spawn in Jan-March, July, October, or November.  In the USSR (White sea), spawning seems to follow a lunar cycle.  Metamorphosis from the larval stage does not occur until 83-216 days after fertilization.

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Dichotomous Keys:
  Flora and Fairbanks
  Kozloff 1987, 1996
  Smith and Carlton, 1975

General References:
  Harbo, 1999
  Johnson and Snook, 1955
  Kozloff, 1993
  Lambert and Austin, 2007
  McConnaughey and McConnaughey, 1985
  Morris et al., 1980
  Niesen, 1997
  O'Clair and O'Clair, 1998
  Sept, 1999

Scientific Articles:

Knott, K. Emily, and Gregory A. Wray, 2000. Controversy and consensus in Asteroid systematics: new insights to Ordinal and Familial relationships. American Zoologist 40:3 pp. 382-392

Web sites:

General Notes and Observations:  Locations, abundances, unusual behaviors:

Closeup of the central disk (aboral side) of the individual above.  The aboral side of the disk is covered with small, conical spines which are larger toward the margins.  It has conspicuous lobes between the arms, and may appear inflated.

The "dorsal" (aboral) plates on the rays are separated by small secondary plates, as can be seen here.
This is a view of the aboral side of a ray.    The five spines projecting from the lateral plates can be seen to the sides.
The yellow tube feet can be seen projecting from the other, oral side of the ray

The underside of the mouth and the rays are white..

Authors and Editors of Page:
Dave Cowles (2006):  Created original page