5 Reef-Safe Starfish For Your Aquarium

Starfish are epic invertebrates that are hard to resist adding to aquariums. But, you shouldn’t add a starfish unless you know how to look after them and if they are definitely reef-safe for your aquarium. For example, the carnivorous Crown-Of-Thorns Starfish is definitely one to avoid!

Despite most starfish being considered reef-safe, only a select few are safe to keep inside reef aquariums. That’s why we have selected some epic starfish to add to your aquarium that will have a chance of survival inside your reef aquarium without causing too many issues with your corals and fish. 

Many starfish are reef-safe in aquariums, including red linckia starfish, sand-sifting starfish, fromia starfish, serpent starfish, and brittle starfish. However, the chocolate chip and reef-knobbed starfish cannot be kept in reef tanks. 

What Makes A Reef-Safe Starfish?

When starfish are labeled as “reef-safe”, take it with a pinch of salt until you have all the facts. 

Starfish may look hardy, but they are sensitive marine creatures that cannot tolerate changes in their environment. Therefore, starfish have specific requirements, which is why many types are not considered reef-safe. Some starfish are also carnivorous predators, known for munching on smaller tank inhabitants like clams, corals, and even small fish if they get in the way. 

Starfish do not cope very well in enclosed areas, so another factor that starfish may not be reef-safe for your particular aquarium is their need for a large display tank. 

Five Easy And Reef-Safe Starfish 

Typically, most starfish are considered to be “reef-safe” but some can soon become predators in your aquarium. There are so many epic starfish species to choose from, but it is essential to research the specific species of starfish you want for your aquarium. This is not only so they are not destructive, but also, so you can offer the level of care they require to thrive. 

Starfish usually do not do too well in captive environments, and most of the time, they require additional feeding. So, if you are experienced enough to take on the challenge, then it only makes sense for you to browse through our 5 reef-safe starfish perfect for aquariums. 

#1: Red Linckia Starfish

Red Linckia Starfish

Quick Facts

  • Scientific Name: Linckia sp.
  • Starfish Size: 1” to 4”
  • Reef-Safe: Yes
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Tank Size: 75 gallons

Also known as the multicolor sea star or spotted linckia, the reef linckia starfish is one of the most popular reef-safe starfish in hobbyist aquariums. If the name hasn’t given it away, the red linckia starfish is an attractive bright red. 

As the reef linckia starfish has a peaceful temperament yet is incredibly active, it is the perfect choice if it’s the first time keeping a starfish in your aquarium. 

The feeding habits of the red linckia starfish are also fairly simple. As they gracefully move around your aquarium, the red linckia starfish will consume microorganisms and detritus. However, if you want to feed them, you will be quick to realize that they are incredibly hard starfish to feed, hence the moderate level of care. 

#2: Banded Serpent Starfish

Banded Serpent Starfish

Quick Facts

  • Scientific Name: Ophiolepis superba
  • Starfish Size: 6” to 8”
  • Reef-Safe: Yes
  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Diet: Mostly carnivores, but some are also omnivores
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons

Banded serpent starfish are mesmerizing sea stars that can grow up to 8 inches in diameter, which means you will need a fairly large display tank if you select these types of starfish. 

Banded serpent starfish are truly fascinating animals that come in an enormity of colors. We must however note that selecting the color of a serpent starfish will affect the harmony inside your aquarium community. While red serpent starfish are reef-safe in aquariums, you should stay far away from green serpents due to their aggressive nature. 

All serpent starfish are carnivores that love a meaty feast consisting of small pieces of meat, shrimp, fish, or mussels. As serpent starfish are nocturnal feeders, they are best fed in the evening. 

Despite serpent stars spending most of the day hiding because of their nocturnal feeding nature, they can adapt and learn to become more active during the day, it just requires lots of patience!

#3: Sand-Sifting Starfish

Sand-Sifting Starfish

Quick Facts

  • Scientific Name: Astropecten polyacanthus
  • Starfish Size: 10”
  • Reef-Safe: Yes
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Tank Size: 75 gallons

The sand-sifting starfish (or comb starfish) may not be the most eye-catching because of their plain, sandy colors. But if you take a close look at these intriguing reef-safe starfish, you will soon see their unique stripes, prickles, and dots across their body. 

Although the sand-sifting starfish’s diet consists of detritus, they do have a reputation for wandering off to find other starfish, as well as sea urchins and shrimp to munch on. So keep an eye on your starfish if you have any inside your aquarium. 

Overall, sand-sifting starfish make awesome additions to any reef aquarium, as long as you remain patient and have some starfish-keeping experience. Just remember, when adding sand-sifting starfish to aquariums, your tank must be clean as they are known for burying themselves and searching for detritus, which can lead to them dying and rotting in the sand bed. 

So, while sand-sifting starfish can be slightly more difficult to care for, the good news is they will accept substitute feeding to keep them away from their tank mates. As long as your aquarium is clean, and you provide them with optimal conditions for keeping starfish, they will thrive!

#4: Fromia Starfish 

Fromia Starfish

Quick Facts

  • Scientific Name: Fromia sp.
  • Starfish Size: 6”
  • Reef-Safe: Yes
  • Care Level: Difficult
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Tank Size: 100 gallons

Fromia starfish (black-spotted starfish) come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes, many of which are reef-safe starfish for your aquarium. Our top three fromia starfish are:

  • Black Tip Fromia 
  • Marbled Fromia
  • Red Fromia

All fromia starfish have the traditionally loved starfish shape that will catch the eye of anyone passing your display tank. Not only are they attractive, but they are also active during the day and night, showing off their unique colors.

Fromia starfish mostly survive on detritus and film alga, however, you can also try feeding them with flakes, meat, as well as nori. 

#5: Brittle Starfish 

Brittle Starfish

Quick Facts

  • Scientific Name: Ophiuroidea
  • Starfish Size: 6”
  • Reef-Safe: Yes
  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Mostly carnivores, but some are also omnivores
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons

Brittle starfish are the most frequently kept and easiest starfish in reef aquariums, despite their need for substitute feeding. One of the reasons is their well-natured behavior. They also come in many types such as red, banded, knobby, and fancy brittle starfish, just to name the most popular ones.

Even though brittle starfish come in many types like their fromia cousins, don’t let their name fool you, as they are not brittle. This is why you can also find them at your local fish store under the name “serpent starfish”. The main difference between serpent stars and true brittle stars is their texture. Brittle starfish are covered in tiny spines/spikes, while serpent stars have a smooth texture and a more shiny appearance. 

Just a word of warning… If you come across a green brittle/serpent starfish, you should avoid adding them to your aquarium as these are not reef-safe. 

Aquarium Conditions For Reef-Safe Starfish

Starfish do best when they are kept in pristine and stable reef aquarium conditions. 

Starfish Water Parameters:

  • Salinity: 1.025
  • pH: 8.1-8.4
  • Water Hardness: 8-12
  • Temperature: 72-78 °F (22-25 °C)

What Do Starfish Eat In Aquariums?

Many starfish are detritivores, which means they crawl around cleaning waste and leftover food inside your aquarium. However, some starfish are carnivorous and opportunistic hunters. These starfish must be fed meaty foods such as small pieces of fish or shrimp, so they are not tempted by eating your corals or other tank inhabitants. 

You should aim to feed your starfish 2-3 times a week. 

What Tank Mates Are Incompatible With Starfish? 

Aside from other starfish, there are certain species of fish and shrimp you want to avoid adding to your aquarium. 

Tank mates to avoid when keeping starfish:

  • Pufferfish (particularly Dogface Pufferfish)
  • Triggerfish (Clown Triggerfish, Niger Triggerfish, Queen Triggerfish, Picasso Triggerfish)
  • Harlequin Shrimp

Starfish That Are NOT Reef-Safe For Your Aquarium

There are some species of aquarium starfish that you may want to stay clear of. Now, I wouldn’t completely write them off, but unless you have experience keeping starfish, buying one of the following starfish, often ends up in a recipe for disaster and disappointment. 

The two starfish that are not considered reef safe are the:

  • Chocolate Chip Starfish
  • Red Knob Starfish 

These starfish are fine if you do not have a reef. But as they are voracious carnivores, they will graze on corals, and pretty much anything they can get their arms on. 

Summary

Starfish add excitement to any reef aquarium, offering hobbyists worldwide unique colors, shapes, and even personalities. All five species of starfish mentioned are reef-safe for your aquarium and will have a fighting chance of survival if you offer them the best care possible. 

    by
  • Darby Bonner

    As a marine biologist, scuba diving instructor, and experienced aquarium hobbyist, I am obsessed with everything from corals to cruising pelagics like sharks, and everything else in between.

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