Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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Sunflower Star

Pycnopodia helianthoides

Sunflower stars have up to 24 limbs as an adult and can have many colors ranging from brown, orange, and yellow. The young start with 5 arms. The sunflower star can regrow a limb that is lost if it has lived beyond the pain of the break. This species has soft, spongy skin. Its skeleton has disconnected pieces that allows it to open its mouth big enough to swallow large prey.

Range & Habitat

The sunflower star is found in the Pacific Ocean in kelp forests, in low intertidal and subtotal zones from Alaska to San Diego, California. They prefer rocky, gravely, or sandy bottoms.

Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Was listed in 2020. Urban runoff and sewage spills harm sea stars. People should not touch these animals when finding them at the beach. Since 2014, this species has been affected by the sea star wasting disease.


In the Wild - crabs, sea cucumbers, snails, chitons, sea urchins, squid that are dead or dying, other sea stars, sand dollars

Life Span

3-5 years

Fun Facts about the Sunflower Star

  • Sunflower stars have huge appetites. They can swallow an entire sea urchin, digest it, and then eject the urchin's entire external shell.
  • They don't have blood in their bodies but rather pump seawater through it to bring nutrients and oxygen. They can't live in freshwater.
  • The sunflower star can regrow a limb that is lost if it has lived beyond the pain of the break.


AZ Animals Staff (Ed.). (2021, February 24). Starfish.

Channel Islands National Park,California (Ed.). (2016, July 13). Sunflower Star.

Monterey Bay Aquarium (Ed.). (n.d.). Sunflower star.

Walla Walla University (Ed.). (2020). Pycnopodia helianthoides (Brandt, 1835).

Updated July 8, 2021