Gorgonocephalus eucnemis is a species of starfish found in circumpolar marine environments in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly the Arctic Ocean and northern parts of the Atlantic Ocean as far south as the Faeroe Islands and Massachusetts Bay. It also occurs in the Pacific Ocean from the Bering Sea south to Japan and Laguna Beach, California. It is found in rocky areas with strong currents at depths down to 6,600 feet, but more commonly at 50 to 500 feet. It is also found on mud and sandy seabeds among boulders, sea pens and sea fans.
The scientific name for the genus comes from the Greek words “gorgos” meaning “dreadful” and “cephalus” meaning “head.” This refers to the similarity between basket stars and the Gorgon’s head from Greek mythology. The specific name “eucnemis” is Greek for “good” and “boot.”
This basket star has a central disc about 5.5 inches in diameter with 5 pairs of arms that branch into smaller and smaller subdivisions. The color is varying shades of white and beige often with a darker disc. It has a fleshy layer of skin that gives it a rubbery appearance. The arms are covered in tiny hooks and spines which are generally used to grip and manipulate food particles.
It feeds by perching in an elevated position and extending its arms in a net-like fashion perpendicular to the current. It twists and coils its braches, which makes it look like an animated bush. It ensnares small crustaceans, copepods, chaetogaths, jellyfish and detritus that get close enough for it to reach. Trapped prey becomes the center of a “knot” where it is immobilized by the secretion of mucus. The branches bring the food to the mouth which is on the underside of the central disc. Any undigested food particles are expelled through the mouth.
This starfish remains hidden in the daytime and comes out at night to feed. Individual basket stars are either male or female. After spawning the larvae become part of the plankton and disperse with the currents. This creature is usually protected by the toxic nature of the sponges where it like to forage. It is sometimes eaten by fish and crabs. It will also return to a specific location on a regular basis.
In Puget Sound, juvenile specimens have been found living and apparently feeding inside the pharynges of Gersemia rubiformis polyps, only emerging when able to fend for themselves.
Image Caption: Gorgonocephalus eucnemis Wikipedia