red serpent starfish

Serpent starfish

Serpent Starfish

Serpent starfish belong to the family Ophiuridae (one of the five Echinoderm families), which also includes basket and brittle sea stars. These species are very popular in the aquarium trade for their bright and exotic colors and hardiness in the tank.

The serpent and brittle starfish are closely related species. The difference is that the brittle star has its arms covered in small spines, while the serpent sea star has smooth arms that look…well…a bit like serpents, I suppose. These arms radiate from a compact, rounded body, where the mouth is also located.


Sea stars live in most major marine habitats, from tropical reefs to the poles and some are abyssal species, living as deep as 6000 m. Now there’s a biotope tank you don’t see very often…here’s my 10,000 gallon abyssal biotope tank.

Many starfish prefer to stay hidden under rocks during the day, but you may see arms stretching out from beneath the rocks.

Feeding Serpent Starfish

Serpent starfish are opportunistic scavengers, meaning that they would eat almost anything they find or catch. This means that most of the time, they catch stuff that doesn’t move and help you with cleaning up extra food in your tank. However, it also means that they will eat your other livestock if they are able to catch it.

Unless you want your serpent starfish to find their own meals. you may want to feed them.

Serpent Starfish fragging? 

I’ve never read about purposefully fragging starfish (the same way you would frag a coral species) but it seems like it could work. A broken-off starfish ‘leg’ can grow into a separate animal/clone, which seems very typical for a coral but slightly weird for a crawling animal like a starfish for some reason.

Anyone want to give it a try? It could be the next big thing.


This echinoderm is incompatible with reef aquarium species that would consider it a delicious meal–most notably, the harlequin shrimp.

How to acclimate

I recommend using the drip method to acclimate a serpent starfish to the conditions in your tank, the same way you would acclimate a shrimp or crab.

What has your experience been with serpent starfish?


  1. My red serpent starfish looks to have a swollen center like it looks like a cone head so you know why this may of happen?

    1. Author

      Hi Jay, thanks for the question. Interesting one, and a bit tricky to answer, do you have a picture? My thoughts in diagnosing without an image are as follow:
      These are ambush predators and scavengers. Anything cone-shaped that is missing (like a snail?). Does it look like it could be a parasite or is it part of the exoskeleton or maybe underneath the exoskeleton?

      I’m not a vet, or an echino expert, just a geek, but happy to help trouble shoot here. Those are my initial thoughts. Let me know what you think or if you can send a pic.

      1. Author

        Also, FYI, there’s a guy @echinoblog on Twitter who’s stuff I’ve seen. Never spoke to him but he appears to be expert in this space. Would hit him up there see if he knows.

  2. My Serpent Starfish has been doing great! Had him for a month, I’d recommend getting any serpent/brittle star that won’t get too big of a oral disk. The water quality has not been perfect since my 30 gallon tank has not been set up that long, and she has looked great. The species with smaller mouths you’ll have to make meaty pieces very small, and pellets also work well. Hides a lot, but is still really cool regardless.

    1. Author

      Hi Matthew C, thanks for the comment. Good point, about the size of the starfish. The smaller the mouth, the smaller number of things it can eat :). And agree, very cool. Part of what makes this hobby so interesting is the vast amount of potential (and interesting) ocean life out there.

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