Re:Serpent Sea Star Compatible?

#3305
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Howard:

Kris is correct — a serpent starfish has no teeth and cannot chew; it must swallow its meals intact and in one piece, so anything that is too large for it to stuff into its oral cavity is quite safe. However, they are real stretchbellies so you have to be cautious with especially large specimens. For instance, I can tell you that when I feed my orange serpent starfish pieces of cubed cocktail shrimp, you can clearly see a square lump in the body disc of the seahorse for each piece of the cocktail shrimp it has ingested. But if you select a fairly small serpent starfish and large seahorses such as adult Mustangs or Sunburst (Hippocampus erectus), they would probably get along together fine in a 46-gallon aquarium.

A large serpent starfish is indeed a fascinating animal. They will hide under rocks or coral to get away from the bright light, but have an excellent sense of smell and will emerge from hiding the moment they detect anything edible, including frozen Mysis. When they are out and about, or tracking down their next meal from the tantalizing scent trail it leaves behind, they can be amazingly active and lightning fast, pulling themselves along arm over arm much more like an octopus than your ordinary, stick-in-the-mud, slowpoke sea stars. And they are excellent climbers. They pose no danger to any fishes that are too large for them to cram into their oral cavity in one piece, so there’s ordinarily no danger that they might regard your seahorses as a meal, providing you are not keeping dwarf seahorses are one of the other miniature breeds. But I certainly wouldn’t trust them with Pixies or newborn seahorses. Small, bottom-dwelling fishes such as certain gobies could be in jeopardy from a large serpent starfish, but they are primarily scavengers rather than predators.

Ageber has a good point, too — there are many different types of serpent starfish and that may also make a difference. Like ageber, I have also heard that the green serpent starfish can be particularly aggressive. I have a bright orange serpent starfish (Ophioderma squamosissimus) that has not caused any problems and the brittle stars are generally fairly benign as well.

However, it’s quite likely that any serpent starfish would attempt to monopolize the feeding station and scarf up the frozen Mysis as fast as it could stuff them into its oral cavity with its many arms. This could complicate things at feeding time for you and might become a major pain in the neck over time. Elevating the feeding station, which is a good way to thwart bristleworms and hermit crabs that are attracted by the tantalizing odor of frozen Mysis, won’t work with the serpent starfish because they are quite agile and very accomplished climbers. But if you can overcome that obstacle, feel free to try a serpent starfish in your 46-gallon aquarium, Howard. It might be a good idea to target feed the serpent and keep it well-fed, and it’s prudent to have a backup plan in mind just in case you need to find a new home for the serpent starfish if it consistently outcompete your seahorses at feeding time.

Best wishes with all your fishes, sir!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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