Common Brittle Star

  • Scientific name: Ophiothrix fragilis
  • Size: Up to 10cm across.
  • Distribution: Found throughout European waters and across northern African coastlines.

The common brittle star can be found all around coastlines in western Europe, generally over hard sandy or shingle seabeds. Brittlestars can be found in the intertidal zone, or down to depths of several hundred metres. Brittle stars can be found in greater numbers offshore, but closer to land they are generally found individually or in small groups. The central disc of the brittle star is circular, with five legs, all covered with spines, extending from this. The total arm span of a fully grown brittlestar is 5 to 10cm. The colour of the brittle star is generally dark brown to black, although certain individuals can be fairly brightly coloured reddish or yellow.

Brittlestars can drag themselves over the seabed to feed on dead or rotting fish or any other dead sea creatures they can find. They can also catch organic matter than is in the water flowing past them in their spines. Brittlestars are so-called because they fall apart very easily, with the arms detaching from the body under little contact. Brittle stars are consumed by all predatory and scavenger fish in UK waters such as cod, plaice, whiting, bass and other related species.