Attack of the Killer Pink Star
by Chris Lowther, Tofino
Sea stars scare me. Not because they are deadly predators; I'm talking about the ones that look like psychotic aliens. Would you really want to meet a Fat Blood Star in your dreams?
Perhaps you like the look of a Cookie Star? Eating one would poison you. Oh, but how comfortable and squeezable the Cushion Star looks! you say. It will smother for food. Ahh, you say, surely there is nothing macabre about the beautiful Morning Sun Star. It's a cannibal. Eats other sea stars.
They're tricksters. A Wrinkled Star will grasp one end of a rock looking all the world like a disembodied human hand. The stuff of nightmares. A Spiny Red Star will impale soft fingers, a Leather Star will shock with its slimy surface, and a Bat Star will remind you of vampires and Halloween and other scary stuff.
Foragers of live or dead animals (they're not bothered which), they have more arms than we'll ever have and they move quickly as well. Sunflower Stars grow from five-armed juveniles to 24-armed adults measuring 80 centimetres in diameter; these are the fastest of all the stars with one that clocked 115 centimetres per minute. Do not underestimate their power. Sun Stars are equipped with 15,000 tube feet and can capture — and swallow — anything from Dungeness Crab to heavily armed sea urchins. (If I were a sea urchin I'd rather be eaten by a cute and cuddly sea otter. If I had to choose.)
In a truly horrific way, Moon Snails also come into this. Tourists love Moon Snail shells — that classic
turban shape, the subtle colours — and are amazed to learn that they are native to Clayoquot Sound. In local stores, coloured candles and rattles are made from Moon Snails for the visitors. Little do these people know that this is the very animal, which drilled a hole in every Sand Dollar it could find, and sucked the flesh out. When it got tired, it simply switched to suffocating the Dollars with its huge, slimy foot. (Sand Dollars cost $2 plus tax locally.)
Yet these predators become prey to mature Sunflower Stars. You must have seen that coming. It is a terrible sight to behold a Sun Star attacking a Moon Snail (especially if the snail is in the middle of devouring something itself). But who can look away?
Here is what writer Briony Penn says of Sun Stars:
"Sunflower stars are second only to Moon Snails for having the slimiest, weirdest bodies ever to inspire manufacturers of rubber gadgets… Reminiscent of something between the Slime Slurp and a Star Wars villain… Huge, slimy, rapid-moving stars, sometimes reaching a metre across, with as many as 25 legs that are mottled colours of purple, orange and greeny grey — an interior decorator's nightmare. They are also breeding down in the mud right now and you can see all their little darlings getting ready to grow and become the scourges of the mudflats."
She dares us to get close to a Sun Star "charging across" the mud "at a foot per second" "when the dinner bell is rung to devour a pound of snail."
If you happen to drop a pail of oysters overboard, do not dive down after them. It is too late. The Spiny Suns will already be converging on your succulent treat, covering the shells with their bodies, putting all those tube feet to work, and… prying open the helpless things. Like you wanted to do. Consider it an offering, but do not believe you can ever get on any sea star's good side. They remember all the times you pulled them off the rocks when you were a child. And all the times you let your own kids do it. They want revenge.
I am more afraid of the Pink Star than any others, even suns. With five arms, it could stand up and run much more easily. Imagine it in your dreams, a sickly pink, taller than you, giving chase, waving its long arms maniacally.
Chris Lowther is a local writer and activist who calls Clayoquot
Sound her home.