Wednesday 23 May 2012


Gorgonocephalus is Greek for "dread head". The similarity to Rastafarians pretty much ends there.

Gorgonocephalus is a genus of a dozen or so Basket Stars who love the cold. They just love it! In the freezing north and frigid south they can be found at very shallow depths. Other species live closer to the equator and must take to the deep sea to avoid the bitter heat.

Image: SERPENT Media Archive Project
Like other Basket Stars they are a delightfully obscene mass of tendrils and tentacles. They pluck crustaceans and such from the sea, before flexible, branching arms coil around their catch. Next they bring it to a mouth situated on the underside of their central disc. It's surrounded in bristles so they can drag an arm through it and dislodge their incapacitated prey. In other words, they brush their tentacles! And then eat it like sugary dandruff.

Combs don't work so well with dreadlocks. Let alone a Gorgon's snake-hair. In fact, I don't think Medusa looked after her hair at all. Does a load of hissing snakes count as split ends?

Gorgonocephalus Basket Stars really like sponges and corals. At night they climb up them to get into the current and catch food. In the daytime they'll coil up and rest on them or on the ground right next to them. It's like a really perverse version of a guy on a rocking chair with a curled up cat on his lap. Some Basket Stars pick out poisonous sponges to live with so as to dissuade predators.

When Gorgonocephalus meets Gorgonian
Way too many Basket Stars on a Bubblegum Coral
It's not all one way though, Basket Stars are keen to return a favour to their fleshy homes. They do it by eating, so it's really easy and no great sacrifice. What they eat is sundry debris that covers the sponge and may otherwise clog up the pores and prevent feeding. For the Basket Star it's mostly a free meal and hardly seems like housework at all.

I shall call it the Gorgon Nebula
This mutual relationship can start from an early age. After males and females chuck their stuff into the sea, the planktonic larvae drift with the currents a while. Once they find a place to settle, some Gorgonocephalids will live and feed INSIDE coral polyps! They will only leave when they're big enough to venture out. Or, if you ask me, when they're too big to fit any more.

In, on and under. Basket Stars and sponges do it all!


TexWisGirl said...

pretty cool critters!

Joseph JG said...

Yes, cool and cold!

Pen and Ink said...

This is so interesting. Thank you for sharing great information and photographs!

Joseph JG said...

No problem, glad you enjoyed it!