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All the diamonds in this world, that mean anything to me are conjured up by wind and sunlight sparkling on the sea

- Bruce Cockburn (All the Diamonds, from Salt, Sun and Time, 1974)

Sparkles Beneath the Sea

While there are diamonds on the surface of the sea, there are sparkling stars below. Some of the most colorful and strikingly beautiful animals on our planet - the sea stars - will be found living on the ocean floor. Sea stars (also known as starfish), and their relatives make up a fascinating group of animals - the phylum Echinodermata. The name means 'spiny skinned'.

A variety of Spines and Skeletons

If you've ever seen a sea urchin , you know the meaning of 'spiny-skinned'; they look like spine-covered balls. The spines are actually part of an internal skeleton system. The core skeleton, or test, of a sea urchin is a hollow ball with circular bumps protruding outward. These bumps act like the ball in a ball-and-socket arrangement each bump fits into a socket formed by the base of one of the urchin’s spines.

Sea Bound

You won't find echinoderms living in the forest or in your local pond. All echinoderms posess a water-vascular system - a water-filled cirdulatory system in delicate balance with the surroundinng sea water. A sea star or sea urchin removed from its ocean habitat will survive only a short while.

An Ancient Group

Echinoderms have lived in the world's oceans for a very long time. Fossils discovered in the Burgess Shales of the Canadiann Rocky Mountains, prove that echinoderms evolved over 500 million years ago. No doubt there were many thousands of colorful sea star species that lived and went extinct over that half-billion year history, but it's only very recently that the beauty and diversity of this group has come to the attention of others. By looking closely at the surface of echinoderms - using microscopes, cameras, patience, and curiosity - we can discover some of the amazing adaptations that have made this group so successful.




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