Scientists discover a new species of feather star with 20 arms

Preserved Antarctic strawberry feather star, or Promachocrinus fragarius.
Courtesy Greg W. Ross

  • Researchers have discovered a new type of feather star with 20 “arms”.
  • This species is part of the Antarctic feather star group and is widely related to starfish.
  • Scientists named their discovery strawberry.

Researchers dredging in the ocean near Antarctica have discovered a new species that looks intimidating in pictures — but they’ve dubbed it a fruit.

The Antarctic strawberry feather star is a sea creature with 20 so-called “arms”—some bumpy, some feathery—and can be up to eight inches long, Greg Ross, a professor of marine biology at the University of California, San Diego, told the insider.

Ross co-authored the paper on the new species with researchers Emily McLaughlin and Nereid Wilson, and published their findings in invertebrate systematics Last month.

The alien-like creature doesn’t look like a strawberry at first. But if you zoom in on its body–the little part at the top of all those arms–it’s like the size and shape of a fruit.

Close-up of the strawberry feather star in Antarctica with some of Ciri removed to reveal a strawberry-like base.
Courtesy Greg W. Ross

The circular protrusions on the star’s body are where the cirri should have been — the smaller, tentacle-like strings protruding from the base — but they have been removed to show the attachment points, Ross said.

“We took a bunch of cirri so you can see what parts it’s attached to, and that’s what a strawberry looks like,” he said.

He added that Ciri has small tentacles at the end that are used to grip the bottom of the sea floor.

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The so-called arms are the longer, feather-like parts of the Antarctic Strawberry Feather Star shown in the image. They’re usually spread out, Ross said, and aid the creature’s movement.

The official name of the newly discovered species is Promachocrinus fragarius. It belongs to the class Crinoidea, which includes starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers, and is a type of feather star—hence the less formal name “Antarctic feather star.” Fragarius is derived from the Latin word “fragum,” which means strawberry, according to the paper.

The professor said in an interview that there was originally only one species within the Antarctic feather star group – Promachocrinus kerguelensis.

Promachocrinus kerguelnsis was originally thought to be the only species under the genus Promachocrinus.
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But by dragging a net along the Southern Ocean in search of more specimens of these creatures, the team of scientists from Australia and the United States has identified four new species that could fall under the Antarctic feather star cluster.

The Antarctic Strawberry Feather Star is particularly notable because of the number of “arms” it has. “The majority of feather stars have 10 arms,” ​​Ross said.

Ross added that the typical position of the feather star is for the “arms” to be spread out and up, while the cirri is pointed downward.

With the discovery, Ross said, researchers can add eight species under the category of Antarctic feather stars, adding the four new finds and “resurrecting” previously discovered animals that were initially thought to be of their own kind.

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“So we’ve gone from one species with 20 arms to now eight species — six with 20 arms and two with 10 under the name Promachocrinus,” Ross said.

According to the paper, the Strawberry Feather Star was found in the Antarctic somewhere between 215 feet and about 3,840 feet below the surface.

“Another manifestation of the swimming motions of feather stars,” the researchers acknowledge in their paper.

Finding new species in general is not a rare phenomenon, Ross said, adding that his lab at the university’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography catches as many as 10 to 15 species annually.

“We find so many species. The problem is how much work goes into naming them,” he said.

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