On the southern fringe of Cyrene Reef this morning, we stumbled upon a couple of cushy findings amidst the coral rubble. Nestled near heaps of encrusted rock were two cushion sea stars (Culcita novaguineae) who busily pretended not to care that we had interrupted their sunny meditation. Unlike the knobblies over at the seagrass meadow, who cringe and coil their thick limbs upon being discovered, the cushions retain their stiff demeanour throughout, refusing to even extend a token tube foot of acknowledgement from the narrow grooves which are just visible at the tips of arms so short they barely merit the name.
These two stars are possibly regulars on the reef, where they have ample food in the colonies of polyps that thrive on the shallow flat and the reef wall further below. With just five ambulacral grooves from which tube feet extend to anchor and drive the animal forward, it's hard to imagine how the pillow-shaped creatures secure themselves against the waves, manoeuvre over the patchy sea bottom of living rocks and dead creatures or turn themselves upright when tipped over by naughty ducks. But clearly they do all that and more with the stubborn speed of Sunday trains bedecked with a mosaic of fine spots and florid patterns. And for hungry puffers and other fishy fans of celestial snacks, these are no soft servings but armoured skins with granular hides that must prove a pretty pain to pin down.