Hungry baby starfishes eat each other to survive

Young starfish eat their siblings for their own, according to a new study.

survival.Two researchers accidentally discovered this behavior in the small starfish Asterias forbesi. Initially, they tried to understand how young starfish respond to ferocious crab predators in the laboratory.

“But all the experimental starfish began to eateach other even before we released the crabs. We had to give up this experiment, ”explains John Allen, assistant professor of biology at William & Mary College. So Allen and his team set out to observe this previously unknown phenomenon among young starfish.

According to National Geographic, starfishAsterias forbesi, which is commonly found on the east coast of the United States, grows to be 11.9 to 24 cm in length in adulthood. Juveniles are mostly pinhead-sized replicas of their parents, Allen says. In the process of growth, they undergo metamorphosis - they turn from an immature form into an adult, just as caterpillars turn into butterflies.

Although juveniles of Asterias forbesi are roughly the same size, the larger ones always end up eating the smaller ones, according to a new study.

Scientists have found that young starfish show cannibalism as early as four days after metamorphosis.

Cannibalism between siblings can give individual stars an adaptive advantage, Allen said. Moreover, adult female starfish lay 5 to 10 million eggs per year.

The results are published in the journal Ecology.

Although this behavior was unknown for thisspecies, cannibalism is not uncommon in the animal kingdom: more than 1,300 species (including humans) are reported to exhibit it. The researchers believe that cannibalism is likely to be even more prevalent in small animals, including young ones.

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William & Mary is a public research university in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.