Chocolate chip what? Yes, you heard right – chocolate chip starfish…not to be confused with Chocolate Starfish, the name of Limp Bizkit’s third studio album or the Australian rock band. The chocolate chip starfish (Protoreaster nodosus) is more accurately referred to as the chocolate chip sea star, as starfish aren’t actually fish at all. Starfish are echinoderms, marine animals belonging to the phylum Echinodermata. This ornamental sea creature gets its name from its highly recognizable exterior, which is studded with protrusions resembling the best part of the classic yet irresistible chocolate chip cookie. Chocolate chip starfish come in a range of colors, from light brown or tan to shades of red. Some of the most beautiful are the brilliant orange or red chocolate chip starfish. The ‘chocolate chips’ studding this creature’s exterior also come in a range of colors. The protrusions serve to make the starfish appear more dangerous to other ocean dwellers. Due to its unique appearance, the chocolate chip starfish is often a popular addition to an aquarium.
So, you want to start your own aquarium and are thinking that one of these amusing animals would be a good addition to your selection of other fish. Fortunately for you, chocolate chip starfish can tolerate a wide variety of habitats. In the wild, they are most commonly found in shallow lagoons, but are also known to inhabit depths as deep as 75 feet in parts of the Indo-Pacific. Filling a large aquarium several inches deep with sand best replicates a chocolate chip starfish’s preferred natural environment. It is important that the aquarium is quite large, as chocolate chip starfish can grow up to 15 inches in diameter! Despite the chocolate chip starfish’s rather resilient nature, it requires high water quality and will not be able to endure elevated levels of nitrate, similar to other invertebrates living in aquariums. Starfish are exclusively marine organisms – freshwater starfish don’t exist. They need the calcium present in saltwater to create their hard, calcified exterior. There are a couple species that live in brackish water, but the majority of starfish species live in saltwater.
Adding a Chocolate Chip Starfish to Your Aquarium
At this point, you’re thinking that it might be nice to spice up your aquarium with some other creatures to go along with your chocolate chip starfish – but be careful whom you pick! Chocolate chip starfish are fairly slow moving, and therefore should not be paired with any species of predatory fish that might come after it, such as a triggerfish or pufferfish. Mild-mannered fish make the best roommates for your chocolate chip starfish. Although they have very few predators, their ability to regenerate their limbs makes them very resistant to any attack they might face. Some species are even able to regenerate an entire body from a single appendage alone. They are able to do this by storing most of their vital organs in their arms. In terms of acquiring other organisms for your aquarium, it is also important to note that chocolate chip starfish will eat soft corals and sponges, and are therefore not recommended for a coral reef environment.
You’ve got the perfect tank conditions and a good group of friends, but now your starfish is hungry. What do chocolate chip starfish eat anyway? You’re thinking maybe it’s not a tall glass of milk, despite its name! Like other species of starfish, chocolate chip starfish are scavengers and will move about the aquarium foraging for food; however, supplementing their diet is recommended. Starfish are carnivorous, so meaty foods like muscles, shrimp, and squids make a good meal. It can sometimes be difficult to feed your chocolate chip starfish because their slow moving nature allows other fish to swoop in and eat the starfish’s food before it even gets to it. A suggested technique is to use long tongs to place the starfish’s food directly in front of it, in the hopes that it will be able to get to it before other fish. Starfish, in general, have a very unique method for eating. Instead of capturing their prey like a typical predator might do, they expel their stomachs outside of their body and engulf their prey. They use tiny, suction cups on the end of their tentacles to open up clam or muscles shells, allowing their stomach easy access to their meal. Crazy, huh?
Now that you know some of the basics of this unique animal, go ahead and have a go at adding one to your aquarium at home!