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Researchers discover coral-eating starfish has eyes

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Scientists are looking for physical vulnerabilities in the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish which are devastating swathes of the Great Barrier Reef in order to control their spread.

Research has already shown that the starfish which can grow to 60cm in size and have up to 21 arms, has well-developed senses of smell, touch and taste. 

And now researchers and scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have discovered that adult crown-of-thorns also have a well-developed sense of sight.

At the end of each of their arms there is an eye that can make out rudimentary images of their immediate environment. The study found that crown-of-thorns can see slow-moving objects, such as their main predator – the Pacific triton snail (Charonia tritonis) which pins the seastar to the reef, injects it with an enzyme and literally sucks the life out of it.

There are plans to use the crown-of-thorns’ sense of smell against them. It had been determined that the chemical scent of the tritons can be dispersed in the marine environment. Crown-of-thorns have been shown to flee when confronted by the scent of the snails.

It is hoped that a better understanding of these aspects of crown-of-thorns starfish’s biology may lead to new methods to either disperse or attract them, in order to control their numbers. 

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