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Body buffers thermal variations: sea star


Ochre starfish, Pisaster ochraceus / D. Gordon E... / LicenseCC-by-sa - Attribution Share Alike

The body of sea stars helps buffer thermal variations experienced in low tide by taking up and storing cold sea water during high tide.


"One starfish has a remarkable strategy to avoid overheating in the sun, scientists have discovered.

"The starfish pumps itself up with cold seawater to lower its body temperature when exposed to the sun at low tide.

"It is equivalent to a person drinking seven litres of water before heading into the midday sun, scientists say" (Bourton 2009)

"The body temperature of ectotherms is influenced by the interaction of abiotic conditions, morphology, and behavior. Although organisms living in different thermal habitats may exhibit morphological plasticity or move from unfavorable locations, there are few examples of animals adjusting their thermal properties in response to short-term changes in local conditions. Here, we show that the intertidal sea star Pisaster ochraceus modulates its thermal inertia in response to prior thermal exposure. After exposure to high body temperature at low tide, sea stars increase the amount of colder-than-air fluid in their coelomic cavity when submerged during high tide, resulting in a lower body temperature during the subsequent low tide. Moreover, this buffering capacity is more effective when seawater is cold during the previous high tide. This ability to modify the volume of coelomic fluid provides sea stars with a novel thermoregulatory 'backup' when faced with prolonged exposure to elevated aerial temperatures." (Pincebourde et al. 2009:890)
About the inspiring organism
Med_ochre_sea_stars Pisaster ochraceus
Pisaster ochraceus (Brandt, 1835)

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Buffer temperature fluctuations in buildings, computer equipment by adding a fluid.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Electronics, computer science, building, construction, manufacturing

Helmuth Lab
Brian Helmuth
University of South Carolina, Department of Biological Sciences
Bourton J. 2009. Starfish 'pump up' to cool down. BBC Earth News [Internet],
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Pincebourde S; Sanford E; Helmuth B. 2009. An intertidal sea star adjusts thermal inertia to avoid extreme body temperatures. American Naturalist. 174(6): 890-7.
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