Tide pooling recently, I spotted a flash of color. It was wedged into a rock crack and at first I thought I had spotted a tossed away Coke can – same size, color. Then I realized it was moving and a closer look showed a little vermillion sea star just waiting out the out-going tide in a rock niche. I pried it off and inspected the hundreds of moving little feet with suction cup ends all along each arm, all groping for something to latch onto. Then it rolled up into a little ball, so, like the good beach-walker I hoped I was, quickly put it back in its rocky home. It was just so, vermillion!
Common on all sorts of beaches with rocks, shell-sand, gravel and even mud bottoms, this little predator makes a living off anything it can grab onto such as sponges, worms, and even the waving sea pen, another flashy creature I’ve written about here. Can’t find a meal of living tissue, vermillion stars scavenge the second-tier stuff such as detritus and dead creatures. It’s not picky! And it does all this the same way other sea stars eat, by flipping their stomachs out through the mouth and digesting the meal externally. Finished, it pulls it all back inside the body again. Hollywood couldn’t have come up with a better yucky finish.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.