The Starfish of Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

We saw this colorful starfish from a distance and came over for a closer look. It’s scientific name is Henricia leviuscula. It common name is Pacific blood star.
I decided a slight shift in perspective would create a twirling ballet dancer! Or is it a whirling dervish?

We were lucky to find any starfish at all. The population up and down the Pacific coast came close to being wiped out in 2013. A rather nasty virus that melted these attractive creatures from the inside killed millions. Legs would fall off and go crawling away. It sounded like the plot to a Grade B horror flick. Fortunately, evolution came to the rescue. A small portion of the population seemed immune to the virus. Maybe some of the legs got lucky. They came back with a vengeance. We did find a few that were obviously dead. I touched one. It was mushy. Melting.

Everywhere we looked we saw starfish. Sometime in bunches. These purple and orange star fish belong to the same family, Pisaster ochraceus. Scientists don’t know why they come in two colors.

Here are some fun facts:

  • These rather amazing five-legged creatures have seawater for blood. It serves the same purpose, delivering nutrients to cells. 
  • Starfish can regenerate an arm lost to a predator. But what if the arm loses its starfish? It can regenerate a new starfish, an exact replica. Pretty cool, huh.
  • They have very small mouths but like large, tasty morsels, like mussels. Not a problem. They have big stomachs. They send them out through their mouths and wrap them around what they want to eat. They digest their dinner and then suck the nutrients back into their mouths, along with the wandering stomachs. 
  • They move around on tiny little feet that are found on their arms. They fill these little feet with water and mimic walking. They travel slowly, at least I have never seen one move quickly. 
  • The feet also serve another purpose; they work as suction cups. The starfish will wrap itself around a closed mussel, attach their little feet, and pull the shells apart. Not an easy task.
  • One more thing about their arms, each one comes with eyes. Not eyes like you and I have but photo receptors that allow them to distinguish between light and dark and move around in search of food, or to avoid becoming food. 

Following are more of our photos:

At first, I thought that the ugly guy above the starfish was seaweed. But looking at it more closely, I decided that it wasn’t something I wanted to meet up with on a dark night.
I’ll conclude with this edgy fellow.


As you read this post, Peggy and I are on our way to Pt. Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco. When she asked what I wanted to do for my birthday week, it popped up. The National Sea Shore is one of my all-time favorite places and I have been escaping there for 50 years. So, beyond responding to comments, I will be taking a break from blogging and reading blogs this coming week. Translate: Vacation! I’ll be back to work on March 8. See you then. –Curt

42 thoughts on “The Starfish of Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

  1. Have a wonderful time visiting my old haunts! And thank you for the update on the sea stars. That was the year that we left the area, and it did seem like things were collapsing as we headed out the door. I’m so glad they’re recovering.

    • We loved Pt. Reyes, AV. I always have ever since I started going there in the 60s. 🙂 What’s not to love about great hikes, beautiful scenery and fun wildlife. I also confess a weakness for the Bovine Bakery (buttermilk scones) and the Pt. Reyes Bookstore. What a marvelous collection. Peggy and I walked out with nine books. Happy Birthday, she said. 🙂 Didn’t make it though Two Rock Valley this time but thought of you. –Curt

  2. They do look unique, Curt. I never knew that a leg could regenerate a starfish, only that the starfish could replace a lost leg. Lucky for them, eh?!

  3. Hi Curt, what a beautiful and interesting post. Starfish, I am used to these from
    the islands where I grew. Nothing like your Pacific blood star though. He/ she looks indeed like a dancer.
    The facts you give are new to me. I guess we just picked them up and looked and admired them. Thanks for informing us all.
    So much beauty there is around us if we care but look. Thank you. 🤗.


    • Thanks, Kelly. Nature in all of its glory for sure. And Peggy and I had a great time at Pt. Reyes! It’s been one of my favorite places forever! There will be several posts. 🙂 –Curt

  4. The colors of these starfish are gorgeous. I’ve only seen light tan ones. And if we see one at the beach, we see hundreds. I guess they come in waves (well, literally), just like jellyfish!!!! Now you see ’em, now you don’t.

    • Neither starfish nor jellyfish appreciate being washed up on the beach. 🙂 It’s usually bad news for them. Good news for gulls and other shoreline creatures that think of them as dinner.
      The colors of Pacific starfish are intense. Oranges, purples, reds and yellows. Always fun to see what nature does, Rusha.

      • Heres a story from the great naturalist Loren Eiseley (The Immense Journey) that I thought you might like, Rusha:

        One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.

        Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

        The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

        “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

        After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.

        Then, smiling at the man, he said…..“I made a difference for that one.”

  5. I can’t remember ever seeing a live starfish. By the time I finished reading about their abilities, I was just the tiniest bit creeped out — but I got over it. I wondered whether there are any along the Texas coast, and there are: three species. Two that arrive at the beach are farther south, from Matagorda Island to South Padre, and one species is deepwater. If I ever get to South Padre in January, I might find one.

    I hope you’re finding lots of birthday treats along the way!

    • One of nature’s marvels, for sure, Linda. And they serve an important ecological niche in the ocean. Hard to imagine that an “old salt” like you has yet to make their acquaintance.
      Peggy and I had a great birthday trip. Pt. Reyes is one of my all-time favorite natural areas. I’ll have several posts. I’m slipping one in on Friday between Harris Beach posts featuring elephant seals! It should be fun. –Curt

  6. What the what?! Starfish send their stomachs out through their mouths to digest stuff that’s too big. Craziness. Isn’t the world just fantastic?! I hope you are having a brilliant time at Point Reyes. I haven’t even been there, but I’m familiar with it from when I lived in Eureka. Isn’t that where the connection of tectonic plates is clearly visible on a map? I always assume that when the Big One hits, this is the part of California that’s gonna break off. When that happens, I hope you’re on the east side. Love you guys.

    • Nature is indeed marvelous. And starfish are a great example! Yep, Pt. Reyes is made up of a wandering chunk from the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range that made its way north from around Los Angeles following the San Andreas Fault over the past several million years. Another marvel of nature, and plate tectonics.
      Peggy and I had a great time there. It’s one of my favorite places. I’ve been going there since the late 60s! There should be some fun posts. I’m going to do one the elephant seals we visited there this Friday. Thanks Crystal. Love back to you. –Curt

  7. Wow! I will never take a star-fish for granted again! 😀 Incredible creatures and glad they are increasing in numbers again. The photos of them are fantastic, surreal almost and what amazing depth of colour! Wonderful post, Curt and a brilliant natural history lesson!😀

    • Thanks, Annika. Peggy and I had a blast checking out tide pools. It’s another world. They kept us amused for around three hours over a couple of days. I have another post on the marine life we found in them a week from Friday. I’m going to blog on elephant seals this coming Friday. –Curt

  8. Whoa that orange star fish is spectacular.
    They truely are amazing sea creatures. I can’t believe I missed all of your posts… I thought you were celebrating. They didn’t come up in my reader. Onward to the National Park! 💖👏👏

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