STARFISH: The Crown of Thorns starfish has been labelled the 'cockroach of the ocean' after a recent study by SCU and University of Sydney.
STARFISH: The Crown of Thorns starfish has been labelled the 'cockroach of the ocean' after a recent study by SCU and University of Sydney.

REVEALED: The predatory nature of the ‘cockroach of the sea’

SCIENTISTS from two respected universities have labelled the predatory Crown of Thorns starfish ‘the cockroach of the sea’ after a recent study into the species eating habits.

Crown of Thorns starfish, named for their spiky exterior, are natural algae predators and can grow to be a metre wide

Scientists at Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre (NMSC), alongside those from University of Sydney, were left stunned at the range of food Crown of Thorns eat.

“Juvenile COTS appear to be the ‘cockroach’ of the oceans – highly resilient and able to survive for months on food that we initially thought they would not eat,” said NMSC lead researcher Dr Benjamin Mos.

The study showed Crown of Thorns can live off a range of algae, when it was thought to be limited to crustose coralline algae. In times of starvation, Crown of Thorns will eat biofilm which sits on top of the ocean.

This can spell danger for Australia’s coral reef coastline according to the researchers.

“Learning about the strengths and weaknesses of this lifestage may help us find new ways to manage population outbreaks that devastate coral reefs in Australia and the Indo-Pacific,” Dr Mos said.

“Outbreaks of COTS are a diabolic problem for coral reefs,” Professor Symon Dworjanyn, also of the science centre said.

Previously, little had been known about this starfish predators due to their ability to hide in among coral reefs so the science centre’s state of the art facilities was crucial.

“Despite decades of focused research on COTS we are still uncovering surprising information about this sneaky species. The ability for the young starfish to eat such a broad range of foods shocked us,” Prof Symon Dworjanyn said.


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