Chocolate Chip Sea Star

Chocolate Chip Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus) as seen in our Sea & Me exhibit.

From first glance, it is obvious why this animal is called a Chocolate Chip Sea Star. The thick body and five arms are covered along the upper surface with dark tubercles (a round nodule or warty growth on the skin) which make it look like a chocolate chip cookie. In reality, tubercles are a form of defense for the sea star, armoring it against predators. The animal’s skin is often a light tan, further enhancing the appearance of a cookie, but can range in color up to bright orange. Like other sea stars, this invertebrate is an opportunistic eater. It will hunt sponges which they locate through their keen sense of smell. Once a sponge is held in place by the star’s five arms, the star will push its stomach out through its mouth and coat the prey in digestive juices. Once the sponge is reduced to a slush, the star will use tiny hairs along the underside of its body to push the meal into its mouth. Chocolate Chip Sea Stars will also scavenge on dead animals or animal waste.

Range & Habit

This invertebrate can be widely found through the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Red Sea. They are common in shallow areas, preferring to live and hunt in seagrass beds or on the sandy ocean floor. They are sometimes found at much deeper depths in and around coral reefs.

Conservation Status

Although populations of this animal are considered stable, it is widely harvested, dried and sold as a tourist souvenir in countries throughout the Pacific. Due to the chemical makeup of the star, it has also been used in the biomedical industry in the production of steroids.