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Crinoid: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Crinoids, often referred to as sea lilies or feather stars, are some of the most ancient and enchanting inhabitants of the ocean’s depths. These marine creatures, with their feathery arms and intricate designs, resemble flowers more than the animals they truly are.

Belonging to the Echinodermata phylum, the same group that includes starfish and sea urchins, crinoids are a living link to the ancient seas, with a fossil record dating back over 450 million years. This article serves as a comprehensive guide to understanding crinoids, exploring their diverse species, unique anatomy, and the role they play in the marine ecosystem.

Crinoids at a Glance


Phylum:Echinodermata (Echinoderms)
Order:Various (e.g., Comatulida, Isocrinida)
Family:Various (e.g., Antedonidae, Isocrinidae)
Genus:Numerous (e.g., Antedon, Isocrinus)
Species:Over 600 known species

Essential Information

Average Size:Arm length: 0.5 to 1 meter (20-40 inches); Diameter: up to 14 cm (5.5 inches)
Average Weight:Variable, often light due to skeletal structure
Average Lifespan:Can live for several decades, some possibly over a century
Geographical Range:Worldwide, predominantly in deep-sea environments
Conservation Status:Not globally threatened, but specific population data often lacking

Species and Subspecies

Crinoids display a remarkable diversity across more than 600 known species. The two main types of crinoids are:

  • Sea Lilies (order Isocrinida): These are stalked crinoids, anchored to the sea floor by a stem. Examples include species of the genus Isocrinus.
  • Feather Stars (order Comatulida): These are unstalked crinoids, free-moving and often found clinging to substrates. Notable genera include Antedon.

The primary difference between these groups lies in their mobility. Sea Lilies are sessile, remaining fixed to one spot, while Feather Stars can swim or crawl by coordinated movements of their arms.

Each species of crinoid displays unique variations in arm number, length, and coloration. The colors can range from muted browns and greens to vibrant reds and yellows, often blending in or standing out from their surrounding environment.



Crinoids are characterized by their distinctive radial symmetry, typically having five or more feathery arms extending from a central disc. These arms can reach a length of 0.5 to 1 meter (20-40 inches) in some species, and they are covered in a series of small, pinnate structures that aid in feeding. The central disc, or body, of a crinoid is relatively small, often no more than 14 cm (5.5 inches) in diameter.

The anatomy of crinoids is specialized for their unique lifestyle. They possess a calcareous endoskeleton made up of plates and ossicles, which gives them both structure and flexibility. Their coloration varies greatly, ranging from subtle browns and greens to striking reds and yellows, depending on the species and environment.

Sexual dimorphism is not pronounced in crinoids, as both males and females generally have similar appearances.

Habitat and Distribution

Crinoids are found in oceans worldwide, from shallow reef environments to deep-sea trenches. They are more abundant in deeper waters, with some species found at depths of over 6,000 meters (nearly 20,000 feet).

Sea Lilies (stalked crinoids) tend to inhabit deeper ocean floors, anchoring themselves to substrates, while Feather Stars (unstalked crinoids) are often found in shallower, more dynamic environments like coral reefs, where they can cling to structures or even move around.



Crinoids, particularly Feather Stars, are known for their unique method of locomotion. While many species are sessile, Feather Stars can swim or crawl using coordinated movements of their arms, allowing them to relocate in response to environmental changes or threats.

Crinoids are generally solitary, but they can often be found in groups due to favorable environmental conditions, such as abundant food sources or suitable substrates for attachment.

Communication among crinoids is not well understood, as they do not have a centralized nervous system. However, like other echinoderms, they likely use chemical signals for interactions related to reproduction and possibly defense.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Crinoids are suspension feeders, primarily feeding on small particles floating in the water, such as plankton, detritus, and dissolved organic matter. Their feathery arms, covered in tiny tube feet, are perfectly adapted for this feeding method.

As water currents flow past, these tube feet capture and transport food particles along the arms to the mouth, located at the center of the upper surface of the body.

The feeding strategy of crinoids allows them to exploit the abundant resources of the ocean’s planktonic ecosystem efficiently. This method of feeding requires minimal movement, making it energy-efficient, particularly important in the nutrient-sparse deep-sea environments where many species reside.


Crinoids face predation from a variety of marine animals. Their predators include fish, sea stars, and other echinoderms capable of prying them from their substrates. In some ecosystems, certain species of crabs and snails also feed on crinoids.

Their main defense mechanism against predators is their ability to regenerate lost arms. Some Feather Stars can also swim away to escape predators, a rare ability among echinoderms.


Reproduction and Life Cycle

Crinoids reproduce both sexually and asexually. In sexual reproduction, they release eggs and sperm into the water column, where external fertilization occurs. This method is typical in species living in deeper waters.

Some crinoids can also reproduce asexually through fragmentation, where a piece of an arm or even part of the central disc can develop into a new individual. This method is more common in shallower water species, particularly among Feather Stars.

The fertilized eggs develop into free-swimming larvae, which eventually settle onto a substrate and metamorphose into juvenile crinoids. In the stalked forms, the young crinoids initially have a stalk, which they may lose as they mature into adult Feather Stars. There is no parental care; once the larvae settle and begin metamorphosis, they are on their own.

Conservation and Threats

Crinoids are not currently listed as endangered or vulnerable on a global scale. However, due to their specific habitat requirements and sensitivity to environmental changes, they can serve as indicators of ocean health. Detailed population data for many crinoid species is lacking, primarily due to the difficulty of studying these creatures in their often remote and deep-sea habitats.

The main threats to crinoids include habitat destruction, such as damage to coral reefs and deep-sea trawling, which can disturb or destroy their living spaces. Additionally, ocean acidification and climate change pose long-term threats by altering the marine ecosystems where crinoids thrive.

Conservation efforts for crinoids are generally focused on broader marine conservation initiatives. Protecting coral reefs, regulating deep-sea fishing, and mitigating climate change indirectly benefit crinoid populations. Further research and monitoring are needed to understand their specific conservation needs better.

Fun Facts

  1. Ancient Lineage: Crinoids are among the oldest living marine organisms, with a fossil record dating back over 450 million years.
  2. Regeneration Abilities: Like many echinoderms, crinoids can regenerate lost arms, making them remarkably resilient to physical damage.
  3. Living Fossils: Crinoids are often called ‘living fossils’ because their basic structure has remained unchanged since ancient times.
  4. Diverse Colors: Crinoids come in a variety of colors, including vibrant reds, yellows, and purples, adding a splash of color to the ocean depths.
  5. Star Relatives: Being part of the Echinodermata phylum, crinoids are distant relatives of starfish and sea urchins.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do crinoids move?

Stalked crinoids are generally stationary, but feather stars can crawl or even swim by moving their arms in a coordinated manner.

Where are crinoids found?

Crinoids are found in oceans worldwide, from shallow coral reefs to deep-sea trenches.

What do crinoids eat?

Crinoids are suspension feeders, mainly eating plankton and small particles floating in the water.

Are crinoids plants or animals?

Despite their plant-like appearance, crinoids are animals, related to sea stars and sea urchins.

Can crinoids be kept in aquariums?

Keeping crinoids in aquariums is challenging due to their specific feeding and environmental needs, and is generally not recommended for casual aquarists.

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