Coast KZN

20 Dec 2017

Keep an eye out for hitch-hiker brittlestars

Holly Konig (South Coast Sun) Picture: The hitchhiker brittlestars, the more adventurous relatives of the starfish, live under the jellies’ ‘arms’ and feed off their zooplankton scraps.

Beachgoers are cautioned to keep an eye out for large jelly fish which have been washing up, along with their hitchhiker buddies, onto beaches in KZN recently.

Interestingly enough these jellies act as a mode of transport for hitchhiker brittlestars, the more adventurous relative of the starfish.

Some of the large jellys that have been washing up on Vetchies Beach, and all over Durban lately. Photo supplied by SAAMBR.

“These jellies, Rhopilema nomadica, have no tentacles. Instead they have clumps of ‘oral-arms’ with many small mouth openings on them. The jelly feeds on zooplankton through these openings,” explained the South African Association for Marine Biology Research (SAAMBR) in a social media post.

According to the marine association, the hitchhiker brittlestars (Ophiocnemis marmorata) live under the jellies’ ‘arms’ and feed off their zooplankton scraps. Hitchhiker brittlestars go into the jellies as juveniles and will travel great distances with them.

Brittle stars or ophiuroids are echinoderms in the class Ophiuroidea, and are closely related to starfish. They crawl across the sea floor using their flexible arms for locomotion, except for the hitchhiker brittlestars, who aim to attach to jellies.

A hitchhiker brittle star, relative of the starfish, attaches to jellies and travels great distances with them, feeding off leftover zooplankton. Photo supplied by SAAMBR.