Phylum Echinodermata: Subtidal Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, & Brittle Stars   

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Sea stars, sea urchins, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, feather stars: spiny-skinned animals with endoskeleton of calcium carbonate blocks. Ecologically important predators, grazers, & scavengers in kelp forests. 6000 living species.

Class Echinoidea, Subclass Euechinoidea
  Order Echinoida                                                Order Clypeasteroida
S.purpuratus
M.franciscanus

Dendraster excentricus
Strongylocentrotus purpuratus Mesocentrotus franciscanus Dendraster excentricus
Class Holothuroidea
  Order Aspidochirotida     Order Dendrochirotida
Parastichopus californicus
Parastichopus parvimensis Cucumaria miniata Cucumaria piperata Eupentacta quinquesemita Pseudocnus lubricus Psolus chitonoides
Parastichopus californicus Parastichopus parvimensis
Cucumaria miniata Cucumaria piperata Eupentacta quinquesemita Pseudocnus lubricus Psolus chitonoides
 Class Ophiuroidea
  Order Ophiurida

Amphiura arcystata Ophiopteris papillosa
Ophioplocus esmarki
Ophiothrix spiculata
Amphiura arcystata Ophiopertis papillosa Ophioplocus esmarki
Ophiothrix spiculata














Strongylocentrotus purpuratus
Strongylocentrotus purpuratus  (Stimpson, 1857)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Echinoidea, Subcl. Euechinoidea, Order Echinoida, Family Strongylocentrotidae

Purple sea urchin; test 5 cm diameter (10 cm max), spines short (usually < half diameter of test). Small juveniles often white.

Common on rocky substrate, in crevices & other sheltered microhabitats inaccessible to sea otters. Herbivorous with a strong preference for giant kelp.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species: Mesocentrotus franciscanus is larger, redder and has longer spines relative to test 

Image: Stylaster (hydrocoral), Corynactis (bottom cntr.& rt.), Diplosoma (lower left)

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Mesocentrotus franciscanus Mesocentrotus franciscanus  (A. Agassiz, 1863)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Echinoidea, Subcl. Euechinoidea, Order Echinoida, Family Strongylocentrotidae

Red sea urchin; test to 10 cm diameter or more. Spines long (usually > half diameter of test).

Moderately common in Monterey region, in crevices where sea otters cannot reach them. Herbivorous with preference for giant kelp.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to Baja
Synonyms: Strongylocentrotus franciscanus
Similar species: Strongylocentrotus purpuratus is smaller with shorter spines.


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Dendarster excentricus Dendraster excentricus  (Eschscholtz, 1831)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Echinoidea, Subcl. Euechinoidea, Order Clypeasteroida, Family Dendrasteridae

Sand dollar; test oval & flat, 7 cm diameter; dark gray, brown, or purplish, covered with short club-tipped spines. Dead skeleton (pictured) white with distinctive petaloid pattern where respiratory tube feet project.

Common, in dense aggregations on sand with moderate to strong water motion. Diet of particulate detritus, unattached drift algae & small motile prey such as larvae & copepods.

Geogr. Range: Alaska to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species:

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Parastichopus californicus Parastichopus californicus  (Stimpson, 1857)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea, Order Aspidochirotida, Family Stichopodidae  

Large sea cucumber, 25-40 cm; dorsal surface mottled red, orange, brownish yellow, with conical fleshy spines; tube feet concentrated on functionally ventral surface.

Common, on rocks and sand. In Monterey, more prevalent at deeper depths with low water motion. Feeds on organic detritus using short tufted oral tentacles. 

Geogr. Range: British Columbia to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species: Parastichopus parvimensis has more numerous papillae tipped with black interspersed with larger conical spines on dorsal surface.

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Parastichopus parvimensis Parastichopus parvimensis  (Clark, 1913)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea, Order Aspidochirotida, Family Stichopodidae

Large sea cucumber 25-30 cm; orange-brown with numerous small black-tipped papillae interspersed with large fleshy conical spines.  Tube feet concentrated on ventral surface.

Common on rocks at kelp forest depths in Monterey region. Feeds on organic detritus.

Geogr. Range: central California to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species: Parastichopus californicus is redder and lacks black-tipped papillae on dorsal surface.

Image: Reginella hippocrepis (across top), Diplosoma (upper rt.), Ritterella (cntr. bottom), Lagenicella (middle left), Phidolopora (left of center)
 
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Cucumaria miniata
Cucumaria miniata  (Brandt, 1835)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea, Order Dendrochirotida, Family Cucumariidae

Bright orange sea cucumber, 10-25 cm long. Tube feet in distinct rows down length of body; ten highly branched tentacles form crown 5-8 cm across around mouth. 

Common & conspicuous, usually nestled in crevices with only tentacles visible.  

Geogr. Range: Alaska to central California
Synonyms:
Similar species: Cucumaria piperata and Pseudocnus are white, with or without black speckling.

Image: Phidolopora (far left), Celleporina (lower left), Diplosoma (left of cntr), Celleporella sp. (top cntr.)


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Cucumaria piperata
Cucumaria piperata  (Stimpson, 1864)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea, Order Dendrochirotida, Family Cucumariidae

White or cream sea cucumber with black speckles, to 10 cm long (often less in Monterey). Retractile tube feet in 5 double rows down length of body.  Ten equal-size tentacles surround mouth.

Moderately common but inconspicuous, usually nestled in crevices or under algae on rocky substrate, shallow subtidal.  

Geogr. Range: Queen Charlotte Is. to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species: Cucumaria miniata is larger and bright orange;  Pseudocnus lubricus is white with tube feet scattered more randomly along body and with sparser speckling. Small white sea cucumbers are  difficult to distinguish in the field & often require microscopic examination of skin ossicles.

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Pseudocnus lubricus Pseudocnus lubricus  (H.L. Clark, 1901)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea, Order Dendrochirotida, Family Cucumariidae

Length to 5 cm; white or cream either plain or with small dark speckles on dorsum; tube feet retractile & scattered across dorsum. Ten tentacles of equal size surround mouth. 

Common, often in aggregations on rocky substrate. 

Geogr. Range: Alaska to central California.
Synonyms: Cucumaria lubrica
Similar species: small white sea cucumbers are difficult to distinguish in the field; requires microscopic examination of skin ossicles. Eupentacta quinquesemita has tube feet that are arranged in rows & not retractile; it has 10 unequal tentacles (8 large, 2 much smaller). Two spp. of Pentamera in Monterey region are similar to P. lubricus but both are rare, have non-retractile tube feet and 10 unequal oral tentacles (2 small, 8 large). 

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Eupentacta quinquesemita Eupentacta quinquesemita  (Selenka, 1867)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea, Order Dendrochirotida, Family Sclerodactylidae

Length 5-10 cm; 5 rows (~4 podia wide) of non-retractile tube feet, white with 10 white tentacles (8 large & 2 small) around mouth; body stiff due to abundance of skin ossicles. 

Common in rocky habitats; suspension feeder. 

Geogr. Range: Sitka Alaska to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species: 2 species of Pentamera (P.charlottae & P.montereyensis) and E. quinquesemita are difficult to distinguish in the field; requires microscopic examination of skin ossicles, but Pentamera spp. are rare in Monterey region. 

Image: Pandalas danae (bottom left)

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Psolus chitonoides Psolus chitonoides  Clark, 1901
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Holothuroidea, Order Dendrochirotida, Family Psolidae

Body a domed chiton-shape but usually obscured in the field by algae, etc; to 7 cm long & covered with orange scale-like calcareous plates. Tentacle plume is usually all that's visible, with 10 equal-size highly-branched tentacles, bright red with white tips; tube feet only on underside (inset) & neck of tentacle crown. 

Moderately common on rocks, but cryptic & camouflaged until illuminated with a light; suspension feeder.

Geogr. Range: Aleutian Islands to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species:  tentacle crown of Cucumaria miniata is larger with orange rather than red tentacles.

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Ophiothrix spiculata Ophiothrix spiculata  Le Conte, 1851
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Ophiuroidea, Order Ophiurida, Family Ophiotrichidae

Disk diameter to 15 mm, arms to 85 mm; arms with prominent marginal spines each with microscopic thornlike spinelets. Color & markings vary enormously from green, brown, orange & yellow with red maroon, brown, pink or white markings. Arms autotomize readily.

Very abundant, cryptic, nestled in kelp holdfasts, under rocks, etc. Scavenger, deposit & suspension feeder.  Extends 2-3 arms from cryptic location & captures fine particulate matter using sticky mucus on podia.

Geogr. Range: central California to Galapagos Islands  
Synonyms:
Similar species: Ophiopteris papillosa is often larger in Monterey region, with thicker more robust arms.

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Ophiopteris papillosa Ophiopteris papillosa  (Lyman, 1875)
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Ophiuroidea, Order Ophiurida, Family Ophiocomidae

Disk diameter to 18 mm, arms to 70 mm; disk densely granulated; arm spines flattened.  Black, pale brown or red with dark bands on arms. Arms autotomize readily.

Abundant but patchy, under cobbles & other cryptic microhabitats. Very photonegative and active when disturbed.

Geogr. Range: British Columbia to Baja
Synonyms:
Similar species: Ophiothrix spiculata is more brightly colored and has more delicate lateral arm spines.

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Ophioplocus esmarki Ophioplocus esmarki  Lyman, 1874
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Ophiuroidea, Order Ophiurida, Family Ophiolepidae

Disk round to 22 mm, arms to 60 mm; gray-brown; lateral arm spines very short. 

Common; one of the few ophiuroids visible during daylight hours.  Sluggish & relatively unresponsive; arms do not autotomize easily, but are often found regenerating from being nipped off by fishes.

Geogr. Range: Central California to San Diego
Synonyms:
Similar species: 

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Amphiura arcystata Amphiura arcystata  H.L. Clark, 1911
Phylum Echinodermata, Class Ophiuroidea, Order Ophiurida, Family Amphiuridae

Very long arms to 30 cm protruding from sand are usually all that's visible of this species. 

Very abundant in sand where water motion is low; in Monterey occurs in deeper sites. Suspension & deposit feeder.

Geogr. Range: British Columbia to southern California (at least)
Synonyms:
Similar species: 

 

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Page created by J.M. Watanabe
All images copyright James Watanabe unless otherwise indicated
Contact:  watanabe_at_stanford_dot_edu                                                                                                                                   Last  update: 12 February 2011