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What Do Starfish Eat in the Wild & as Pets? Diet Facts & FAQ

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By Lindsey Stanton

red starfish

The beautiful and fascinating starfish, or sea star as it’s also called, is a marine invertebrate. Starfish are purely marine animals as they don’t live in freshwater and very few live in brackish water. In addition to their star-like shape, these animals are well-known for their ability to regrow their limbs and sometimes even their entire bodies.

There are about 2,000 different species of starfish in the world and each species is unique. Starfish with five arms are the most common but some species have 10 arms, 20 arms, and even 40 arms!

While starfish look calm and peaceful, they are fierce predators that are very important to the ecosystem they live in. Starfish play a key role in maintaining a healthy and diverse ocean community. This marine animal is a predator that hunts for food and an animal that serves as prey for other animals living in the ocean which helps bring balance to the ocean food chain. Without starfish, the food chain can be disrupted which could result in some sea creatures becoming endangered due to not having enough prey or too many predators.

Now that you know a little about starfish, we’ll get into the specifics about what these wonderful creatures eat, both in the wild, and when kept in captivity.

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What Starfish Eat in the Wild

The wild starfish diet varies among the many species. Some starfish are pure predatory animals that go after small fish and others are scavengers that feed on things like rotting matter found on shores and beaches.

The majority of the starfish in the world’s oceans are carnivorous, spending most of their time hunting for fish, sea urchins, plankton snails, sea cucumbers, clams, mussels. anemones, and crustaceans. These starfish hide in rock crevices or bury themselves in the sand so they can quickly capture their unsuspecting prey.

In addition to predators and scavengers, there are some starfish that eat by drifting along in the water so they can capture and feed on plankton, sea sponges, and coral. As you can see, there are many things wild starfish eat and a starfish diet is highly dependent on the specific species.

starfish in sea corals
Image Credit: Piqsels

 What Starfish Eat in Captivity

If you want to keep a starfish in an aquarium, you cannot feed it fish flakes and pellets because it won’t eat these things. A starfish living in an aquarium must be fed a diet that’s similar to what the species eats in the wild.

Most of the starfish you can find for sale at aquarium stores can eat snails, clams, and mussels you can purchase at your local grocery store or a specialty pet shop. If you do buy snails, clams, and mussels at a grocery store for your starfish, be sure to rinse them off well before you give them to your starfish. By rinsing off the food, you’ll be assured no harmful pathogens are on the food that can jeopardize the health of your pet starfish.

Image Credit: Levoqd, Pixabay

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How a Starfish Eats

A starfish carries out a very remarkable form of feeding that is mind-boggling, to say the least. A starfish eats something like a mussel or oyster by extending its stomach out of its mouth to digest the soft part of the prey. This creates a mushy substance the starfish then draws back into its digestive glands located on its body to finish off the feast.

How to Feed a Starfish

There are dozens of starfish species for sale to keep in aquariums with most of them being omnivorous scavengers. If you get one of these species, the starfish may be able to find some food in the tank to eat like algae or some leftover fish food. However, since an aquarium is much smaller than its natural habitat, your starfish won’t find enough to eat which means it’s up to you to provide your starfish with food.

The first thing you need to do is identify the type of starfish you have. Hopefully, the pet store or breeder that sold you the starfish told you what species you have. If not, you need to find out what species your pet starfish is so you’ll know what to feed it. Even though there are around 2000 species of starfish, most of them are not sold as pets. You should be able to figure out what species you have by doing some basic research online.

Once you know the species, dig deeper and find out what that species eats in captivity. When you’ve figured out what food to feed your startish, purchase it and get ready to feed your cute little friend.

If you bought some shrimp or mussels for your starfish, chop some up and use aquarium forceps to drop a couple of pieces into the water near your starfish. If your starfish snatches up the food and devours it, give it another piece. Continue doing this until your starfish refuses to eat as that’s a sign your starfish isn’t hungry anymore.

starfish in sea underwater
Image Credit: Sophia Hilmar, Pixabay

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Starfish are amazing creatures that are great fun to watch. If you plan on getting a starfish to put in your home aquarium, be sure to get a species that is compatible with your fish. You certainly don’t want your starfish to gobble up your fish so take your time and check the compatibility between the starfish species you have and your fish!

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Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

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