Posted by: Kate | April 28, 2011

Purple Starfish

Rachel asked in the comments the other day about the purple starfish. Her question took me aback, as I didn’t know that purple starfish were unusual in some areas! This starfish is the ochre star, Pisaster ochraceus, and is the most commonly found starfish on the coast of Vancouver Island. While they do come in orange and pale lavender, the most common colour by far is purple. These starfish have a thick, stiff body, and feed on mussels, barnacles, limpets and snails. They are found in tidepools and on reefs, often in clusters. They also are found on the underside of rocks, especially on the shores where there are long fissures in the rocky composition – we often find ourselves almost twisting upside down to check out a cluster of starfish under a rock overhang close to the ground.

Sometimes starfish get caught out in the sand during low tides.

Gulls like to eat starfish, and you will often find one flipped over at the edge of the water where a gull has attempted to rip a limb off for a snack. Starfish are rough and bumpy where the white dots are, but the purple part of their skin is soft and leathery – it is a very odd sensation to touch one. The tubular feet on the underside of a starfish are very strong, pulling one off the rocks is never recommended as you can rip the feet. They sure are fun to observe though.

A starfish missing two limbs.

A typical cluster of starfish - note the few lavender ones in the bunch.


  1. we definitely don’t have any color of starfish in minnesota!

    those purple guys are amazing – i’m glad rachel prompted you to post more pictures!

  2. Thanks for the information Kate!! With the name you gave, I looked up the specs on distribution and see that this species goes down along our coast as well. I guess they much just be far paler cuz your blog is the first I’ve seen purple starfish (and I’m pretty sure I would have noticed since I look for things like that). I think they are very cool!

  3. love this – i posted something similar recently as many have questioned (or just assumed) if the purple starfish in my stitching work is just creative license. nope! also, it would seem that the orange/brown colour is more common on the outer coasts where they eat mussels (mussels have carotenoids, like carrots, and can give an orange colour) whereas the purple is more common on the inner coast where they tend to eat more barnacles instead. further proof that you are what you eat!

Welcome! I always like to hear what people think of a post, it often leads to a great discussion! I am now responding to comments and questions right in the comments themselves, so other people can follow the conversation.

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