Brittle star (Ophiocoma nigra)
This brittle star, Ophiocomina nigra, comes from the Firth of Clyde and was collected by scientists at the Millport Marine Station on Cumbrae. This specimen is important as it is a good example of 19th century collecting and presentation. It has been beautifully preserved and mounted on a blue glass background and even though it is over a hundred years old it looks like it was collected yesterday. As you can see from this specimen the name brittle star is well chosen as the arms are very fragile and readily break off. If attacked by a predator they can shed arms which they later regenerate. Trying to collect and preserve an intact specimen is very tricky and many museum specimens will have some breakages.
Brittle stars are a type of Echinoderm, a group of marine animals which includes seastars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. There are around 1900 species found worldwide with most living in the deep oceans. Using their long thin flexible arms they can move around looking for food, they are mainly scavengers and detritivores. This species is found in the seas almost all round the UK where in good sheltered sites it can form beds with over 100 animals per square metre.