An array of 24 arms distinguishes this magnificent sunflower star from other sea stars. Soft skin in colors ranging from purple to brown, orange or yellow adds to its beauty.
For a sea star, this animal is a voracious predator. When on the prowl for food, the sunflower star swings along on its 15,000 tube feet—moving at the remarkable speed, for a sea star, of over 40 inches (1 m) per minute.
The sunstar's prey use a variety of escape tactics to avoid being trapped by the Pycnopodia’s tube feet. Snails and abalones violently twist their shells to loosen the star’s powerful grip; cockles lower their strong foot and pole-vault away; California sea cucumbers, usually sedentary, slither out of the way; and sea urchins flee. Both red and purple sea urchins deploy their pedicellariae (pinchers) to nibble on the star’s tube feet. The purple urchin seldom escapes, however the red sea urchin has another defense—long spines, which usually ensure its escape.