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Species Database

Pisaster brevispinus - Short-spined sea star

Short-spined sea star image

Geographic range:

Alaska to San Diego, California

Key features:

Light pink color, short spines and thick rays.

Similar species:

Pisaster giganteus -- Giant-spined star
Pisaster ochraceus -- Ochre star
Evasterias troschelii -- False Ochre Star


bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), exposed rocky shore, exposed sandy beaches, kelp forest, protected rocky shore, protected sandy beaches

Primary common name:

Short-spined sea star

General grouping:

Sea stars, urchins, cucumbers, sand dollars, brittle stars

ITIS code:


Geographic Range

Range Description:

Sitka, Alaska to Mission Bay in San Diego, California.

Northern latitude extent:


Southern latitude extent:


Intertidal Height

Lowest intertidal height:

meters OR -2 feet

Highest intertidal height:

meters OR 0 feet

Intertidal height notes:

Rarely occurs in the intertidal.

Subtidal Depth Range

Minimum depth:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Maximum depth:

150 meters OR feet

Subtidal depth notes:

More common in the subtidal. One reference lists a maximum depth of 182 m.


bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), exposed rocky shore, exposed sandy beaches, kelp forest, protected rocky shore, protected sandy beaches

Habitat notes:

Unlike the other species of Pisaster, Pisaster brevispinus is found both on rocky reefs and outlying sandy areas, including harbors and other soft-sediment habitats.


Relative abundance:

Common to uncommon, depending on habitat type.

Species Description

General description:

Pisaster brevispinus, as its name suggests, has short spines. It also has very stocky rays, up to 32 cm long. The color is a very pale pink, and depending on water clarity and lighting conditions can almost appear white. Usually with five rays.

Distinctive features:

The pink coloring is diagnostic, as are the thick rays and short spines on the aboral surface.


Diameter: 65 cm maximum

Natural History

General natural history:

Pisaster brevispinus is found both on sandy and rocky habitats. Unlike its congeners, when in sandy habitats Pisaster brevispinus is able to consume infaunal prey, such as burrowing clams and subsurface gastropods (e.g., the olive snail Callianax [nee Olivella] biplicata).


Large adults have relatively few predators, although southern sea otters Enhydra lutris nereis have detached rays to consume the gonads. Sea gulls have also attempted to eat Pisaster brevispinus exposed during very low tides.


On rocky habitats Pisaster brevispinus consumes bivalves, gastropods, barnacles and sessile annelids. On sandy surfaces Pisaster brevispinus may dig after infaunal clams, gastropods, and sand dollars Dendraster excentricus.

Feeding behavior

Carnivore, Omnivore, Scavenger

Feeding behavior notes:

Pisaster brevispinus will scavenge nearby carcasses, but it is also an active predator.

January - May


Gonads begin to develop in the winter and spawning takes place in spring, usually in April. Sexes are separate and fertilization takes place externally. Larvae disperse in the water column. New recruits (to 3 cm diamater) can be seen in summer.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary:

None are known.
Click on an image below to view a larger version in the SIMoN Photo Library. You will also be able to view important information on each photo such as photographer, date, caption and more.
Carlton, J.T. 2007.
The Light and Smith Manual, 4th edition
Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon
University of California Press. 1001 p.

Lamb, A. and B. P. Hanby. 2005. Marine life of the Pacific Northwest. Harbour Publishing. 398 p.
Morris, R.H., D.P Abbott, and E.C. Haderlie. 1980. Intertidal Invertebrates of California. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 690 p.