Where do starfish go in winter?

BBC Wildlife contributor Matt Doggett answers your wild question. 

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Sea star © Jack Perks

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Starfish or sea stars are present around the UK coast all year, and can be found anywhere from shallow rockpools to the darkest depths.

However, they are harder to spot in winter, as individuals often move down the shore or to more sheltered locations, where they can continue to feed with less disturbance from strong waves. Predation by gulls probably increases at this time of year, too, further reducing visible numbers. Towards the end of winter and into spring, many species begin to spawn.

In winter, starfish are often washed up on beaches following severe winds. In March 2008, for example, a five-mile stretch of the Kent coastline was littered with thousands of common sea stars Asterias rubens.

This species forms vast feeding aggregations on mussel beds at densities of hundreds per square metre. Why so many washed up remains a mystery, but it is possible that, having exhausted their food supply in deeper waters, they migrated to the shallows in search of prey before meeting their fate. 

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