Creepy crinoids and the camouflaged critters that colonize them

Feather star (crinoid) in Anilao, Philippines

What stalks across the seafloor and ripples around the reef?

What looks like a plant, but then GRABS you when you swim past?

What has no brain, an anus next to its mouth, and a bunch of sticky arms that reach out and attach to you?

What's beautiful and terrifying all at once? The crinoid.

What's underwater and creepier than a crinoid? NOTHING.

So let's talk about crinoids. I'm generally pretty cool, calm, and rational. I'm smitten with sharks and stricken with sea snakes. I don't even get all shrieky over spiders. There is nothing, NOTHING in the ocean that can turn me into a flailing puddle of panic more than a feather star sticking to me. Shaking it off becomes my #1 priority.

Bull shark in Beqa Lagoon, Fiji

Something underwater that could eat me.

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Feather Star (Crinoid)

A feather star, which probably won't eat me.

This makes no sense. My crinoid-induced paralysis is 100% unfounded. After all, I don't get wound up over brittle stars, or any of the feather star's other suspension-feeding echinoderm cousins. The feather star is not going to eat me. I am not under attack.

Or so you say.

They really are interesting, though, and they play host to a number of fascinating sea creatures. I'd potentially be willing to call a truce just because I like looking at what lives in, on, and near that fearsome feather star.

Lots of cool stuff lives in crinoids. If you're brave enough to gently pick through the sticky arms of a feather star (take charge of your own fate!), you're likely to find all kinds of little arthropods like this Ambon Crinoid Shrimp (L. amboinensis):

Crinoid Shrimp

Crinoid Shrimp

Like the crinoid itself, the crinoid shrimp comes in a variety of colorations and very specifically matches its host. Feeding on any organic matter that happens to fall its way, the crinoid shrimp exists in a commensal (from Latin commensalis, meaning "sharing a table") relationship with its host.

Another well-camouflaged crinoid shrimp

Another well-camouflaged crinoid shrimp

With camouflage like this, and when they measure in at no longer than 3cm, crinoid shrimp can be really challenging to spot.

 

Fish can also be found hiding in the crinoids. And not just any fish, really cool fish like the Ornate Ghost Pipefish:

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Ornate Ghost Pipefish camouflaged near a crinoid

I'll get over my fear of a feather star sticking to me all day, every day to see Ornate Ghost Pipefish. What a crazy cool fish.

Also juvenile fish like this tiny Harlequin Sweetlips, which was no bigger than my pinky nail:

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Very small juvenile Sweetlips fish

Harlequin Sweetlips juvenile in a crinoid. Fun fact: juvie sweetlips swim erratically to mimic the movement of poisonous flatworms.

Maybe I've talked myself off the ledge and I can now come to terms with the crinoid creep factor, and appreciate them for their fascinating beauty and the habitat they provide for interesting critters.

Maybe I'll never get past the shudder-inducing fact that they crawl.

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Feather Star (Crinoid)


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