Star ascidian (Botryllus schlosseri)

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Star ascidian fact file

Star ascidian description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAscidiacea
OrderStolidobranchia
FamilyStyelidae
GenusBotryllus (1)

The star ascidian is a colonial sea-squirt (2). The individual members of the colony (known as zooids) are embedded in a jelly-like coating called a 'test' in groups of 3-12 around a common opening; this arrangement gives rise to the star-like patterns referred to by the common name (3). Sea-squirts earn their common name because they expel a jet of water when disturbed (3). They are also known as 'tunicates' due to the tunic-like test of many species. The colour of colonies is variable, but includes blue, brown and yellow; furthermore the colour of the zooids often contrasts with that of the test (3). Sea-squirts belong to the same phylum as humans, the 'chordates'. The free-swimming larval stage is a 'tadpole larva', which possesses a stiff chord known as a 'notochord' as well as a nerve chord, which pass along the flexible tail; the possession of both a notochord and a nerve chord at some point in the lifecycle of an animal is a crucial defining characteristic shared by all chordates (3).

Size
Zooid width: 2 - 4 mm (2)
Colony size: from a few mm to 150 mm (3)
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Star ascidian biology

All sea-squirts filter suspended particles from the water. They maintain a current that passes through their body by beating tiny hair-like structures known as 'cilia'; the water enters through an opening called the 'inhalant siphon', and passes through the pharynx, where plankton and detritus become trapped in mucus and are passed to the stomach. The water then passes out through a second opening called the 'exhalent siphon'. In the star ascidian, the exhalent siphons of all the members of the colony open into a shared chamber, known as the cloaca, water then passes out of a shared exhalent siphon at the centre of the colony (3).

In the star ascidian, the zooids are hermaphroditic(3); after fertilisation, eggs are retained until the tadpole larvae have formed (2). The larvae are then released through the exhalent siphon, and live in the water column for about 36 hours, before settling and forming new colonies (2). Asexual reproduction can also take place through budding(3). Colonies may live for up to one and a half years (3). Star ascidians are predated upon by cowries (members of the genus Trivia), which are gastropod molluscs; cowries also lay their eggs into holes made in the star-ascidian test (3).

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Star ascidian range

Very common and widespread around the coasts of Britain. It also occurs around Ireland and in mainland Europe from the Faeroe Islands and Norway, reaching as far south as the Mediterranean. It is also known from the western Atlantic along parts of the coast of North America, where it is thought to have been introduced on the hulls of ships (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Star ascidian habitat

Typically occurs on the lower shore and in shallow depths, but has been recorded at depths of several hundred meters (2). It seems to fare particularly well in sheltered sites, such as docks, and grows on a wide range of stable substrates including rock, algae and artificial surfaces (2).

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Star ascidian status

Common and widespread (3).

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Star ascidian threats

Not currently threatened.

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Star ascidian conservation

No conservation action has been targeted at this species.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more on this species see the MarLIN (Marine Life Information Network) species account, available at:
http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/Botryllusschlosseri.htm

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk
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Glossary

Asexual reproduction
Reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells (‘gametes’). In many species, asexual reproduction can occur by fission (or in plants ‘vegetative reproduction’); part of the organism breaks away and develops into a separate individual. Some animals, including vertebrates can develop from unfertilised eggs, this process, known as parthenogenesis gives rise to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent.
Budding
Type of asexual reproduction (reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells), in which new individuals develop from the parent organism, forming a swelling similar in appearance to a bud. The ‘bud’ slowly separates from the parent as it grows.
Colonial
Relating to or belonging to a colony (a group of organisms living together in a group).
Hermaphrodite
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
Larval
Of the stage in an animal's lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Pharynx
The tube connecting the mouth to the internal body cavity where digestion occurs. In vertebrates, the part of the gut between the mouth and the oesophagus.
Plankton
Aquatic organisms that drift with water movements; may be either phytoplankton (plants), or zooplankton (animals).
Zooid
An individual colony member of colonial invertebrates, such as bryozoans.
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References

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Hiscock, K., (2001) Botryllus schlosseri. Star ascidian. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth:Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 27/11/02]. http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/Botryllusschlosseri.htm
  3. Fish, J. D. & Fish, S. (1996) A student's guide to the seashore. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
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Image credit

Star ascidians  
Star ascidians

© D. W. Greenslade / www.ardea.com

Ardea wildlife pets environment
59 Tranquil Vale
London
SE3 0BS
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 318 1401
ardea@ardea.co.uk
http://www.ardea.com

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