Biodiversity & Conservation

Spiny starfish - Marthasterias glacialis

Marthasterias glacialis

Image Keith Hiscock - Small spiny starfish. Image width ca 18 cm.
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Distribution map

Marthasterias glacialis recorded (dark blue bullet) and expected (light blue bullet) distribution in Britain and Ireland (see below)

Why do the maps differ?

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Marthasterias glacialis is not listed under any importance categories.

Taxonomy icon Taxonomy Taxon English term
Phylum Echinodermata Starfish, brittlestars, sea urchins & sea cucumbers
Class Stelleroidea Starfish, sea stars, cushion stars and brittlestars
Authority (Linnaeus, 1758)
Recent synonyms None
Map icon Recorded Distribution in Britain and Ireland Marthasterias glacialis is recorded from the southwest and west coast of England and the west coast of Scotland. It has only been recorded at one site on the east coast (St Abbs, Scotland) and has not been recorded in the eastern English Channel.
Habitat information icon Habitat information Marthasterias glacialis is found from extreme low water to about 200 m. It can be found in a variety of habitats from sheltered muddy sites to wave exposed rock faces.
Text page icon Description Marthasterias glacialis is a large starfish up to 70 cm across, commonly 25-30 cm. It has 5 narrow tapering arms with 3 rows of longitudinal spines along each arm. The spines are white, usually with purple tips. spines are surrounded by specialised minute modified spines (pedicellariae), which are used for protection and to gather food. Marthasterias glacialis can be dirty brown to pale greyish green in colour with purple tips to the arms.
Identifying features
  • Up to 70 cm across.
  • 5 narrow tapering arms
  • Arms with 3 longitudinal rows of white, spines (usually purple tipped).
  • Spines surrounded by cushions of pedicellariae.
  • Pale grey to green tinged with purple, yellow or reddish in colour.
Additional information icon Additional information Small individuals of Marthasterias glacialis may be confused with Leptasterias mulleri (Northern starfish).

This review can be cited as follows:

Olwen Ager 2008. Marthasterias glacialis. Spiny starfish. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 25/11/2015]. Available from: <>