How Do Sunflower Starfish Eat Their Prey?

The sunflower starfish has the impressive ability to extend its stomach out of its mouth in order to externally digest certain prey.
The sunflower starfish has the impressive ability to extend its stomach out of its mouth in order to externally digest certain prey.
The sunflower starfish has the impressive ability to extend its stomach out of its mouth in order to externally digest certain prey.

There's a certain starfish that never has to worry about its eyes being bigger than its stomach. If the sunflower starfish comes upon a meal that won't fit in its mouth -- an oyster or mussel, for example -- it simply pops its stomach out of its mouth and digests the soft bits. Think of it like carrying a blender around in order to make things easier to swallow.

According to scientists from Queen Mary University of London, the resulting soup is much easier for the starfish to take in through its mouth. Until recently, no one knew exactly how the starfish performed such a feat, but the researchers discovered the trick was a neuropeptide. Neuropeptides carry signals from one neuron to another, and in the starfish, it means being able to tell the stomach to emerge from its body.

"These findings open up the possibility of designing chemical-based strategies to control the feeding of starfish," said Prof. Maurice Elphick, the lead researcher. By controlling how the starfish eat, scientists hope to address issues like the loss of important shellfish from certain locations and the destruction of coral in reefs.

Nature's weird table manners:

  • Hyenas can eat every bit of their prey, including bones, hooves, hair, and horns.

  • Skuas are arctic birds that steal most of their food from other birds, sometimes even scaring others into vomiting up their meals so the skuas can eat them.

  • Carrion beetles bury dead mice or birds in a hole, mate on top of the carcass, and after their eggs hatch, eat the remains.


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    • The sunflower starfish has the impressive ability to extend its stomach out of its mouth in order to externally digest certain prey.
      The sunflower starfish has the impressive ability to extend its stomach out of its mouth in order to externally digest certain prey.