Schoolboy finds rare starfish 400 miles north of usual habitat

A 10-year-old boy has found a colony of rare starfish in Fair Isle, 400 miles north of their known habitat.

Henry Hyndman, who lives in the isle with his parents Tom and Elizabeth, had been exploring the rock pools alone near the South Lighthouse while his artist father was working in his studio at the lighthouse. Henry initially found one cushion star starfish in a rock pool – he recognised it because he had found a single specimen around two years earlier.

He was really excited at finding another tiny starfish, which are only one and a half centimetres fully grown, and said on his blog: “I ran back screaming to show my dad. Dad was frozen when he saw it and then said ‘awesome!’ and took some photos. It was laying eggs! I went back to look for more. Dad said leave them there if you find more … and I did! Two more! I was so happy.”

The next day Henry, his father and island naturalist Nick Riddiford went back to the rock pool at low tide and to their amazement found a whole breeding colony of 20 or more little cushion stars. Henry said: “I needed Dad to move the big rocks and we all said well done to each other.”

When Henry found his first single example two years ago it was assumed it was an individual specimen lost in the currents of the sea. Now, after finding a colony, the Hyndmans and Mr Riddiford are wondering if it has anything to do with global warming.

Meanwhile dedicated rock-pooler Henry is delighted to have found the cushion star colony. “I can’t believe that they live here now,” he said.

The tiny cushion star starfish has a spiny dorsal surface with a star-like pattern of darker brown or green pigment along the centre of the arms and paler areas between the arms. This species was only recognised recently –1979 – and little is known about it.

Cushion stars, which brood their young, have been found in some very exposed sites on the west coast of Ireland and intertidally in large rock pools, as well as at Strangford Lough.

They can also be found in south west Britain and in the Mediterranean.


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