Northern starfish (Leptasterias (Leptasterias) muelleri)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Leptasterias (Leptasterias) muelleri is a small spiny starfish commonly 6 cm in diameter, but a few may reach up to 20 cm. It has five medium length arms that are broad at the base, taper towards the tip and are clearly marked from the small disc. This species has four rows of tube feet with sucking discs. It may be pink, violet or green in colour with pale arm tips. Green morphs obtain their colour through the presence of single-celled algae within the starfish's upper tissue. Green individuals are invariably found on the shore and shallow sublittoral. The upper surface is covered by regular, longitudinally arranged spines, which increase in irregularity in larger specimens. The spines are distinctly knob-shaped, especially on the mid-dorsal line. The spaces between the spines are occupied by single papulae (soft projections of respiratory function). This species may have one or two rows of ambulacral spines present on its ventral surface and two regular rows of spines along the side of the arms.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Common around most western British coasts with a few recordings on the east and south coasts of England.

Global distribution

Found in the North Sea below Norway, north Atlantic between Iceland and Greenland as well as the northeast coast of America. 


The green morph of this species can be found intertidally under rocks and in rock pools on moderately or very exposed shores. This species can be found down to 800 m.

Depth range

0-800 m

Identifying features

  • A spiny starfish, typically 6 cm in diameter.
  • Five arms, broad at the base but taper towards the tip.
  • Four rows of tube feet bearing sucking discs.
  • Colour pink, violet or green with pale arm tips.

Additional information

Leptasterias (Leptasterias) muelleri breeds during March-April and the mother does not feed during this time. She puts her arms together and raises her back to provide a protective space to place her eggs. There is no larval stage as the embryos develop and leave the mother after the first three pairs of tube feet have appeared.

This speceis may be mistaken for small individuals of Marthasterias glaciallis or Asterias rubens. However, it is distinguished from Asterias rubens by densely packed spines and a single papulae, in the spaces between the spines, on its upper surface.

Listed by

- none -


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  1. Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, 2018. Ulster Museum Marine Surveys of Northern Ireland Coastal Waters. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. Manx Biological Recording Partnership, 2018. Isle of Man historical wildlife records 1990 to 1994. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  3. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  4. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-05-27


This review can be cited as:

Rowley, S.J. 2008. Leptasterias (Leptasterias) muelleri Northern starfish. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 27-05-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 17/04/2008