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Brittle Stars – Why Are They Brittle?
Marine life holds many hidden wonders in the form of vibrant plants and amazing animals. One cannot imagine the kind of animals that live under the sea. Animals range in size from microscopic to large fish. One type of marine creature that looks quite strange is the brittle star. Brittle star belongs to the kingdom Animalia and phylum Echinodermata. The order of brittle stars is Ophiuroidea so they are also called ophiuorids. They are closely related to sea stars. They have very flexible long arms with the help of which they cling to the substratum of the ocean floor. They have very long arms which can reach up to 60 cm in length and are five in number. They are also known as the snake star.
They are not easily recognized by people and they are not noticed but they share a diverse group. About 1,500 species of brittle stars are known today and they are usually found at a depth of 500 m below. It is believed that ophiuroids originated in the early Ordovician about 500 million years ago. They are adapted to the areas where it is found in the water from the areas up to the poles. They are also found attached to coral reefs and some species are also known to tolerate brackish water whose exoskeleton is made of ossicles. There are about 1900 existing species and 230 species of brittle stars divided into three orders which include Oegophiurida, Phrynophiurida, and Ophiurida. Stenurida is an order of the Paleozoic era and is now extinct.
Like all ophiuroids echinoderms have a strong tendency towards pentaradial symmetry. The physical structure of brittle stars is similar to that of starfish in having all five arms attached to the central disc with the slight difference that all arms are not completely attached to the central disc. This central disc contains all the organs and the different organs are not divided into segments as seen in starfish. The bottom of the middle disc is surrounded by five jaws made of bony plates. Madreporite is located within any jawbone and is located in the lower part but in starfish it is located in the upper part.
The fluid system is well marked in brittle stars as it is a feature of echinoderms. The circulatory system provides energy for locomotion. The tube feet are the terminations of the drainage system. There is usually a madreporite in the aquatic system but some species do not have a madreporite as well. Suckers and ampullae are absent in the tube feet of brittle stars. The nervous system is very simple and consists of the main nerve ring that sends fine nerves throughout the limbs. The exact location of the nerve ring is in the middle disc. The head organs are not well developed. They still don’t have eyes. The nerve endings of the nerve ring perform the function of touch, taste etc.
The brittle star’s mouth is surrounded by five jaws that carry the function of the anus and the mouth that serves for both eating and consuming food. Just behind the jaws is the esophagus and stomach. Digestion continues in the inner and outer pouches of the stomach in the liver cells. The ophiuroids are basically considered as digesters or digesters and small particles of food are transported to the mouth with the help of tube feet. Sometimes they also eat crustaceans and small insects. The bases of the arms are cilia-lined sacs called bursae which are used for the exchange of gases. The cilia on the bursae are an important source for transporting oxygen-rich fluids that are circulated through the circulatory system. The bursae are also organs of excretion as they contain phagocytic cells that participate in removing waste from the body. The exoskeleton of ophiuroids is made of calcium carbonate like all echinoderms in the form of calcite. The calcite ossicles fuse together to form plates that are covered by the epidermis that takes the form of a syncytium. The sexes are generally separate but some species are also hermaphroditic. Profits are stored in small pouches on the arms and are released through the bursae. Half is outside and the profits are sold in local water. Some species are also viviparous and show parental care by developing immature larvae in bursae. Some females of certain species carry a dwarf male that is completely attached to its mouth.
Brittle stars will mature in two years and mature in three-fourths. Their average life span is only five years but some species can even live longer than this. They have great powers of regeneration also called autotomy. Autotomy is a defense mechanism in which ophiuroids break one of their arms when a predator attacks and flees. This lost part is generated later through the process of regeneration. They live with the help of their arms that do not have breasts. They are also attacked by parasites which include protozoans, nematodes, algae etc. They are not poisonous but are not used as food by humans. They are used by fish keepers as part of the aquarium.
Brittle stars are very unique because they are not noticed by predators.
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