Sunflower star

Sunflower star, Vancouver Island

Our first day in Tofino was full of surprises. And stars.

During our visit to Vancouver Island, we stayed at The Wickaninnish Inn, an elegant hotel located on Chesterman Beach in Tofino. We thought it would be a great base while looking for whales and bears. What we didn’t expect was to find so much wildlife around the hotel itself. It turned out The Wickaninnish was the perfect place to look for tidal creatures. The inn is built on a rocky point surrounded by sandy beaches, so when then tide is low, the grounds are a great place to go wildlife watching.

On our first day we found ochre starfish, beach hoppers, and this impressive sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) on a colony of aggregate green anemones.

I was mesmerized by this sunflower star. I found it in a crevice along with some other starfish trying to stay underwater while the tide was out. Watching its little tube feet move slowly in tiny waves makes it hard to believe that they can cover 40 inches in just one minute!

Juvenile sunflower stars start with 5 arms and grow the rest as they mature. They can have up to 24 arms, this one in particular had at least 16. If in danger, it can cast off an arm, and then regrow it. Their soft body are covered in pincers, spines and gills. The white spots on this sunflower star are little pincers. They keep the star free of parasites!

We really enjoyed looking around the tide pools (because starfish are so cool!) so we decided to spend a few more days in the area and continue our search for stars.

 

Zoologist and amateur wildlife photographer. She has worked in the field with jackals, wolves, cheetahs & leopards. Due to her habit of dissecting every poo she finds on the trail, her friends refer to her as a poo-logist. Her travel memoir Dual Nature about traveling around Africa with a stranger will be published soon.