Brown Spiny Sea Star Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Brown Spiny Sea Star

Echinaster spinulosus
Brown spiny sea stars has five arms, each with hundreds of tube feet, that are used for movement and feeding. Powered by a water vascular system, the sea star’s tube feet use suction to pull apart the shells of its food; clams and other bivalves.

Where to Find

The brown spiny sea star is active during the day, found among oyster beds, seagrasses, and muddy bottom habitats along Florida's Gulf coast.

Horseshoe Crab

Limulus polyphemus
An ancient species, the horseshoe crab is often referred to as a “living fossil.” The horseshoe crab as we know it today has inhabited our oceans for almost 350 million years. It is classified with crabs but it is not actually a crab or even a crustacean. Horseshoe crabs use their small pinchers to pick through the sand for clams, worms and other critters that make up its diet. Each spring, mature horseshoe crabs spawn in shallow coastal areas where their eggs serve as a critical food source for migrating shorebirds.

Where to Find

The Atlantic horseshoe crab, one of only four horseshoe crab species worldwide, is found in coastal areas from Maine to the Yucatan peninsula. It is considered a benthic (bottom-dwelling) predator.
Horseshoe Crab Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve
Moon Jelly Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Moon Jelly

Aurelia aurita
Moon jellies possess a short fringe of nematocysts (stinging cells) along the lower edge of their body. The sting of this jelly is relatively mild. The moon jelly moves up and down in the water column by pulsing its body, but it isn’t a strong enough swimmer to move against the current. They often wash up on the beach after storms. The pinkish cloverleaf shaped organ visible at the center of the jelly’s bell make up its reproductive organs.

Width: up to 8″

Where to Find

Moon jellies range from Maine through the Caribbean, and can be seasonally abundant in Rookery Bay.
Check out the cool video of a moon jelly swimming.

Nine-armed Sea Star

Luidia senegalensis
Although commonly referred to as a “starfish”, this animal is not a fish because it has no backbone. It is related to sea urchins and sand dollars, all members of the echinoderm (spiny skin) family. The nine-armed sea star has rows of small white tube feet under each arm that help it move and feed on organic matter in the sand. Often found buried in the sand, this sea star is able to regrow legs if wounded. We occasionally have this species in residence in the ELC Touch Tank.

Where to Find

Nine-armed sea stars are often found in sandy, muddy or shelly seabeds in areas such as lagoons.
Nine-armed Sea Star Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve
Pygmy Sea Cucumber Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Pygmy Sea Cucumber

Pentacta pygmaea
This small, chocolate-colored individual looks more like a plant or strangely-colored pickle than an animal. Using its 5 rows of pinkish tube feet, the pygmy sea cucumber slowly moves across the bottom or along structure. They digest detritus (decaying organic material) from the sand. Periodically its crown of feathery white tentacles will emerge from its anterior end.

Where to Find

Pygmy sea cucumbers are considered ocean dwellers but can inhabit shallows. They can often be found moving across the floor bed and sometimes partially buried beneath it.

Sand Dollar

Dendraster excentricus
The sand dollar is also known as the Keyhole Urchin. It is related to urchins and starfish. They have simple, flat, round bodies with a few long, narrow holes in its body. The sand dollar has no head, arms, legs or feet, but it has a mouth on the bottom of its body that it uses to eat small plants and food that it finds buried in the sand.

During your next walk on the beach, you might keep these words in mind: If it’s brown, leave it down. If it’s white, it’s all right.

Where to Find

Sand dollars live under the sand most of the time. When you find a white one on the beach, it’s been bleached white by the sun. They’re safe to pick up and keep.
Sand Dollar Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve
Tricolored Anemone Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Tri-colored anemone

Calliactis tricolor
This anemone is often found on the shells of hermit or other crabs. They have short tentacles with stinging cells for trapping prey. Crabs sometimes relocate anemones to their shells for protection or camouflage. This is beneficial to the anemone because it gets to eat the crab’s scraps.

Where to Find

Anemones are sedentary, meaning they must anchor themselves to a shell or rock.

Upside-down Jelly

Cassiopeia xamachana
As its name suggests, the upside-down jelly is often found upside-down. It swims right-side up, but settles, inverted, in calm, shallow waters so it can feed. A mutually beneficial relationship exists between this animal and a type of algae called zooxanthellae, which live in the jelly’s lacy oral arms. The algae produce food and energy for the jelly through photosynthesis.

Where to Find

Upside-down jellies are often found in coastal waters.
Upside Down Jellyfish: Wildlife at Rookery Bay | National Estuarine Research Reserve
Verigated Urchin Wildlife in Naples | Rookery Bay Research Reserve

Veriegated Urchin

Lytechinus variegatus
The variegated urchin has short spines in vertical rows along its test. Tube feet extend beyond the spines, and are used for feeding or to arrange small items, such as shells, on its back for camouflage. Light purple or brownish in color, it feeds on algae and detrital matter. It is commonly collected while trawling in the Reserve.

Watch the video below to see a living urchin waving its tube feet and pedicellaria (claw-shaped structures) in the current.

Where to Find

Typically found inland inhabiting hydric pine flatwoods, Florida panthers are frequently observed using habitat in the Reserve as part of their range, as confirmed by both radio collar tracking and wildlife camera imagery.
Below watch the veriegated urchin moving its tubed feet!

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