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FAQs about Sand-Sifting Sea Star Compatibility

Related Articles: Sand-Sifting Stars, Asterina Stars, An Introduction to the Echinoderms:  The Sea Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers and More... By James W. Fatherree, M.Sc.

Related FAQs: Seastar Compatibility, Sandsifting Stars 1, Sandsifting Stars 2, & FAQs on: Sandsifting Star ID, Sandsifting Star Behavior, Sandsifting Star Selection, Sandsifting Star Systems, Sandsifting Star Feeding, Sandsifting Star Disease, Sandsifting Star Reproduction, & Sand Sifters for Marine Systems, Sea Stars 1, Sea Stars 2, Sea Stars 3, Sea Stars 4, Sea Stars 5, Seastar Selection, Seastar Scavenger Selection, Brittlestar Selection, Serpent Star Scavengers, Seastar Systems, Seastar Behavior, Seastar Feeding, Seastar Reproduction, Seastar Disease Asterina Stars, Chocolate Chip Stars, Crown of Thorns Stars, Fromia Stars, Linckia Stars, Linckia Stars 2,

Unknown Gastropod Eating Starfish: Possible Snail Predation and/or Dying Sand-Sifting Star -- 10/14/09
<Hello Aaron, Lynn here this morning.>
This morning I woke up to find this guy with his stomach extruded dissolving my sand sifting starfish.
<Interestingly enough, these snails don't actually extrude their stomachs like we're used to seeing with sea stars. Instead, they use a proboscis which is basically a mouth on the end of a flexible trunk that's used to tear away/remove bits of flesh. It's still not good though, to wake up seeing a snail apparently dining on your sea star - no matter the method!>
This guy was a tiny hitchhiker on a piece of live rock I purchased three years ago and has grown to about 2.5" long.
He has a long trunk similar to a conch, but much skinnier. He only comes out at night.
<Looks/sounds whelk or whelk-like.>
He has co-existed with the starfish for about two years without incident. As you can see, he completely consumed one of the starfish's arms, and severed another.
<Yikes! I can't help but wonder if the star wasn't doing well and the snail was simply scavenging on dying flesh -- or getting a head start on a star that was on the way out. These stars are very difficult to keep and can take a surprisingly long time to starve to death. What size system do you have?>
I threw him in my sump/refugium.
<Can't blame you there -- better safe than sorry!>
The starfish seems to still be alive. Do you think it will live? Will its arms regenerate?
<Given otherwise good health, good water quality, lack of predation, ample food and time, hopefully so.>
Can you identify the predacious gastropod?
<Possibly so, but I'd need several good/detailed photos and the location of origin (where the live rock came from). Photos should include at least one of the underneath portion of the snail (where the opening is located), one of the opposite/top side, and if possible, one showing the snail crawling around (in water) so I can see the soft tissue (foot and any other anatomy including the operculum/trapdoor).>
(FYI, the stringy thing on the gastropod's shell is a tube worm, not the trunk)
<Thanks, any and all information you can give me is helpful!>
Is there any benefit to keeping him?
<I'll be able to tell you more when I know exactly what it is.>
Does he also eat detritus or algae,
<Ditto above>
..or has he just been grazing on copepods and worms that live inside the live rock
<It's possible that he's survived so far by scavenging leftover food remnants. If he indeed attacked a healthy sea star, it's possible that he's not been able to find enough food and is going after the most easily accessible source. Supplemental feedings could help discourage this from happening again, but I wouldn't bet on it.>
..by extruding his stomach and eating those also? Could he be the reason I have had zero luck with anemones?
<Shouldn't be>
Will he eat corals?
<I doubt it but, again, I'll know more when I can determine exactly what it is.>
Thanks! You guys are awesome.
<Sorry I couldn't give you a concrete ID! Do please send along more photos if/when you get the chance. In the meantime, I'd leave the little fellow in the sump and away from the display. You might try tossing it a bit of fish, shrimp, etc., and watch its reaction. I'm betting this guy is a predator/scavenger and will likely react pretty quickly to a bit of food. I'd also keep an eye on that poor star. Watch for holes in the center and signs of further disintegration. I suspect the poor thing may have been on the way out and the snail was simply acting on an opportunity to feed. Please see the WWM FAQ's regarding these stars for more information. Start with the following link (see related links at top of page as well): http://www.wetwebmedia.com/sndsftstrdis.htm>
Aaron Chandler
<Take care, LynnZ>

Sand Sifting Star 3/21/08 Hey guys. <Hi Jay.> I had a question about sand sifting stars. I heard from the guys at the LFS that sand sifting stars will take all the nutrients out of live sand. Is this true? <More of the fauna in the sand is what they go after, not desirable.> Because I have several fish that need live sand to thrive and I was just wondering if I need to take this guy back to the store. <I would unless your system is large and you want the sand sifter.> Also what is the smallest tank you would recommend for one of these guys? <100 gallons is the bare minimum for one. The problem being they will deplete the life in the sand bed and eventually starve.> Thanks again you guys, Jay <Welcome, good luck, Scott V.>

- This is the End of My Pets and the Tank - All starfishes and worms appears to be dead, and all begins to decay. :( :( :( :( :cry. And so well.. I should tell back the first storyline why this is can happened. I have a 3 gallon tanks (I guess; it was 60 x 30 x 36) and the inhabitants were living with harmony and living happily. The water was so clear, never polluted and nitrates were very low. But... When I want a horned starfish (Protoreastor) I see in the aquaria, I just foolishly selected it and without any guesswork and considers what could be happened. The seller were so clumsy and looked not so smart (did you know how he put the stars in the transport bags?? He took them out from the water and expose them to the air!! <Next time, don't buy them if the store clerk bags them up that way - refuse to pay for them and tell them why; Seastars should not be exposed to the air.> and I'd be sure they became stressed) And, when I opened the bag in my home, milky saturation exists replacing the water. I ignoring it, and started to put the stars in my aquaria (sorry, this ones without acclimatization and I just put them into the small tank because of the heavy bag to put floating in aquarium.) and they starts to exudes the rotting secretion to water, and next  day the vision was totally obscured. So, I went to the second aquaria marketplace (with my mother began shouting to me) to buy two gallons of saltwater (hey.. in this country no salt mixes available for this; Bob Fenner maybe had been here, for diving in Bunaken and Bali) and using water changes for this. I change it, and waiting to Monday. Next day, all stars die (they as prominently exuding slime and ossicles were falling apart), worms sheds the crown and die. The only survivors is the semi-terrestrial mangrove Ceriths and they now hanging creeping above water surface. And I am fully aware and sure the water were boosting to high-ammonia, nitrites, nitrates.* sob, sob, waahhh !!!!* Mercifully, my mother did, tolerant this likely unforgivable event and I promised to be more careful in selection and care. So, I planned to restart all of this. I started with Archasters, and some others. Can you give me a recommendation for tankmates for Archasters? <Unless space is a real issue for you, can I convince you to get a slightly larger tank? Three gallons is smaller than small, and as you've now seen things can go badly very fast in a tank of this size. Even so, if you must keep this small system, I really wouldn't put much in it - perhaps one Seastar, one Featherduster, and maybe one shrimp, but that's all. If you put too much life in this tank, you'll have a repeat of this bad experience.> (I would be happy if I can put some other starfish species and Brittlestars) and can I use the old sand (I scared if it was contaminated) for the new setting? <You should be able to use the old sand - just let the tank run for a week or so with nothing else in it.> Thanks a lot!!! Anargha. <Cheers, J -- >

Archaster typicus Bob, What are your thoughts on the theory that the Archaster typicus starfish consumes too much of the bacteria in the live sand, depleting the aquarium of the bacteria needed for maintaining the biological equilibrium.  <Not a practical consideration. No problem> I have a 40 gallon reef tank that runs on the Berlin system, and I have one Archaster star; I was wondering if this was a legitimate issue. Thanks for the input. B. Brown <Not IMO/E. Bob Fenner>

Sand Sifting Star Detrimental to Plenum Setup? I have 40 gallon with a small sump (10 gallon aquarium) that has a 1" plenum and 3" of aragonite sand. Is it possible that the sand sifting star that is in sump could be removing the beneficial bacteria absorbing/eating it)? Or is it doing more help than bad by stirring it up and removing detritus? Are there better creatures for this? (stirring the substrate that is) <Good questions... the Archaster star is doing more good than harm. There are other organisms you could use instead, in addition. Please use the search tool, or marine index to read about "Sand Sifters"... on www.WetWebMedia.com Bob Fenner> Thanks in advance, Dan

Sand-sifting Star Compatibility with Cleanup Crew? Hi guys, Haven't written to you in a while, but have been reading the emails everyday. Still amazing answers, just as ever!!  <thanks kindly> Today I'd like to ask your take on the following. I have 1 of the common sand sifting stars in my 125g tank. Now before I continue I'd like to say, yes, I know they are not good for the DSB,  <actually... I like them and recommend them. They serve the greater good in many displays for the sheer volume of diatoms they handle. Some other high profile, land-locked aquarists espouse to the contrary although their experience with large, mature reef aquaria seems to be limited> but as I said my tank is a 125g, and I have a refuge plumbed in that supplies lots of refresher buggy life to the main tank constantly, and my DSB has not diminished in performance.  <agreed and not surprised as one who used such stars in about 2,000 gallons of culture pools in my coral greenhouse> What I'd like to know is if they are compatible with various smaller cleaners like say Nassarius snails, or Cerith snails,  <definitely> or either a fighting or queen conch?  <hmmm... some concern about adequate food hear as the gastropods mature> I'm wondering especially about the small ones like the Nassarius, which I know can stand their ground against things,  <no worries> but is the star fast enough to catch them, or am I completely wrong, as the stars only eat micro-life and such? <exactly... this sea star is very low risk as an opportunistic omnivore... very "reef-safe" with all including the Nassarius. Best Regards, Anthony>

Starfish Bob, Would white burrowing starfish eat cleaner shrimp? (I don't want to buy the  shrimp if they do.) Also, do I need to feed these starfish or will they feed on detritus? Tammy <<The White Burrowing Starfish (Archaster typicus)<right> will not eat your Cleaner Shrimp (some other stars, e.g. Green Brittles will), and in an established system with plenty of live rock there is no need to specifically feed them. Bob Fenner>>

Angels And The Star... Hello can I keep a sand sifting sea star with a Blueface angel or a emperor angel? Thanks. <Should be fine. The angels may occasionally take a little nip at the starfish from time to time, but this is not a common occurrence. I wouldn't worry about it.  I'm sure that the angels will be much more interested in picking at your rocks for food items. Regards, Scott F>

-Insuring sand star survival- What can I do to insure the survival of my Sand Star? My tank is only two months old, I have a 80 gal. tank w/ about 45lbs. live rock and about a 3" sand bed. I have two sand sifting gobies <First, remove these guys, they're competing for the same food as the star.>,4 blue-green chromies,1Burgundy clown,2 cleaner shrimp, 1 royal Gramma, 1 bubble tip anemone, 1 hammer coral, 1 fox coral, 1lg. chili coral, Candy cane coral, that is all I have for now. Any suggestions for me. <Sand stars require an abundance of sand to keep going. IMO they have no place in an aquarium with a deep live sand bed since they devour the very critters that keep the sandbed healthy. -Kevin> Thank you, Mark W.

Puffers and starfish I recently purchased a sand sifting starfish without realizing that they are not compatible with puffers. I have a saddleback and was curious why these would be problematic to each other. I do realize that they will nip at other fish and invertebrates but did not think the sand sifter  was in its fooooood chain. <Jose, most invertebrates are not safe with puffers.  It's not worth taking the chance.  James (Salty Dog)>

Sand-Sifting Starfish (Needs Lots of Space!) - 07/16/05 I was thinking about purchasing a Sand-Sifting Starfish, and I was  wondering if it would harm other star fish? I have a brittle starfish and a  chocolate chip star fish. I also was concerned if it would harm a scooter blenny? <<As a rule no, it won't harm the organisms you mention, but do research/rethink this purchase (start by having a read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/sndsftstrfaqs.htm).  These creatures can/will deplete the biota in a sand bed very quickly.  This in itself is not good for your tank, but bodes even worse for the starfish.  Unless your tank is large (125g or more) with a mature DSB, this animal will likely starve to death within a year.  Regards, Eric R.>>

Sand Sifting Star...Gotta Have One - 11/23/05 Hi guys, my sincere hope you enjoy your Holiday! <<Hello and thank you...hope you do the same.>> No pun, but I'm going to dive right in here.  I keep finding conflicting information about sand-sifting star fish.  Books and web based information claim sand-sifting stars eat algae and waste -including your fact page.  However, I have read your write-backs to concerned aquarists that sand sifting stars eat the fauna in the sand bed and you encouraged against keeping them. <<Yes, very effective at what they do.  They can decimate the biota in a live sand bed very quickly...and left to starve as a result.>> So I decided to see what I could find out about fauna and its life cycle and turnover rate.  I did find articles and tried to make sense out of what I was reading, but the articles did a better job of boosting my confidence that marine biology was alive and well with me guessing if I understood what I was reading.  Is fauna really waste that is generated through a cycle? <<Um, nope...fauna is the animal life found in a particular region, like in your sand bed.>> If so, then what creates it? <<The fauna is not "waste" but rather the worms/micro-crustaceans in your sand bed...though it likely feeds on much of it.>> I understand it's leftover food and fish waste. <<I think you may be confusing fauna with detritus.>> Is there such a thing as having too much fauna? <<Yes, in the sense of overstocking a tank with fishes, other large life...but not usually in the sense you are referring to.>> If sand sifting stars eat fauna, then it stands to reason a sufficient territory will both feed this species and still allow the regeneration of fauna. <<Agreed...but most home aquaria don't have sand beds of sufficient size to support these creatures in the long term.>> Am I on the right track? <<Mmm...sorta...>> I really want a sand sifting star because my research confirms they will eat waste day and night <<And a whole lot more.>>, not attack my fish, not climb on rocks or up viewing panes.  My tank, fish and food info are as follows: 180 gallon with 6 ft. x 18 inch territory of sand.  Fish Stock: Starting with the largest Naso Tang, Green Bird Wrasse, Hawaiian Foxface, Coral Beauty, True Percula Clown, Yellow Tang, Royal Gamma, 3 striped Damsels, 3 Blue Damsels, Six-Line Wrasse.  Foods: Nori, Clams, Spirulina, Plankton, & Ocean's Formula 2. <<If this sand bed is mature (12 mos.) and 4+ inches deep it "might" support a single specimen...but to the detriment of the sand bed in the long run...in my opinion.>> Thanks much, Debi Stanley-Viloria <<Regards, EricR>>
Re: The Person Who Wants A Sand-Sifting Star - 11/25/05
Someone wrote in about how and why he <<a "she" actually>> wants a sand-sifting star and EricR tried to discourage it. <<Yep!>> But you know in this hobby once we get a bug about getting something we tend to ignore warnings. <<Usually to the detriment of the livestock...>> So if it is that he really wants a sand-sifting star he can ignore this.  But if the real goal is cleaning the sand bed with something that will not disturb the view and will not change his landscape then there are lots of alternatives. <<Agreed>> There are micro brittle stars that only come out at night and they are too small (about the size of a dime from tip to tip) to move any rocks and there are worms, tiny sand dwellers that do a great job of cleaning and sifting and they will multiply according to the need.  And if he bought any live sand he probably has them already.  I have a 10 gallon and there are so many different kinds of tiny threadlike worms which clean my sand so I never have to. <<Thank you for sharing, EricR>>

Re: Sand Sifting Star...Gotta Have One - 11/25/05
Thank you Eric for your prompt reply! <<My pleasure Debi>> I sure didn't expect to hear so soon. <<We try to not let queries lay about for long...else the boss starts crackin' the whip! <G> >> Based on your explanation of Fauna, would an added treatment of Copepods do the trick? <<No, not really...the starfish will need much more than copepods to survive...and in quantities greater than you are likely able to provide.>> About a month ago a reef store told us we should think about adding Copepods to our tank twice a year. <<Would rather spend the monies on setting up a refugium myself, more overall benefit in the long run...to include replenishing the copepod population in your tank.>> Our tank is a year old, so we decided 'what the heck, we'll give it a try'.  We were told some of the stuff will remain microscopic and breed, and some will grow up in the tank to be like the little bugs we can see in our tank at night now.  Using a magnifying glass, we have seen tiny bugs smaller than a grain of sand that run about on our sand, also some that look like small clear shrimp, and some that look like little red and green Volkswagens. <<Excellent!>> We have also seen a few worms and one centipede looking creature, but they always stayed on or close to the rock.  If we add a sand-sifting star, would adding Copepods protect the integrity of the sand bed? <<Not at all...the plethora of life in the sand bed which you describe will soon disappear.  EricR>> Debi Stanley-Viloria

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