information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Crevice brittlestar (Ophiopholis aculeata)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



A large brittlestar with twisted arms that are conspicuously banded. The disc is pentagonal and covered with regular rounded plates. The arms are thick and segmented, with 6-7 short thick spines encircling each segment with one small spine being transformed into a hook. The dorsal surface of the arms has a single series of oval plates along its midline each surrounded by a ring of smaller plates. The colour is mainly red but often variegated and, more rarely, the disc may be bluish. The disc is approximately 15 mm across and the arms are 4x disc diameter in length.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Widely distributed around Britain and Ireland. Most conspicuous and abundant in Northern waters.

Global distribution

This species has a circumpolar distribution, including Spitsbergen, the Barents Sea, the coast of Norway, the North Sea, Iceland, Greenland, North America and Japan.


Commonly found in the crevices of rocks amongst horse mussels or under rocks and shells. May form dense beds in tidal sounds in Scotland. Lives in rock pools and can be found to depths of 2000 m.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Twisted robust arms emerging from crevices.
  • Arms with a series of large plates each surrounded by a ring of small ones.
  • Mainly red in colour, often variegated.
  • Dark banding on the arms.

Additional information

This species avoids light and prefers to hide beneath rocks, under shells or among seaweed. By virtue of their long flexible arms this species is well adapted for attaching itself to other animals.

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

Search on:


  1. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  2. Hyman, L.V., 1955. The Invertebrates: Vol. IV. Echinodermata. The coelomate Bilateria. New York: McGraw Hill.

  3. JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), 1999. Marine Environment Resource Mapping And Information Database (MERMAID): Marine Nature Conservation Review Survey Database. [on-line]

  4. Mortensen, T.H., 1927. Handbook of the echinoderms of the British Isles. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press.

  5. National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas website. Available from:  Accessed 01 April 2017

  6. Picton, B.E., 1993. A field guide to the shallow-water echinoderms of the British Isles. London: Immel Publishing Ltd.


This review can be cited as:

Carter, M.C. 2006. Ophiopholis aculeata Crevice brittlestar. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 22-08-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 16/10/2006