How Long Can Starfish Live Out of Water?

Discover the fascinating world of starfish and learn how long they can survive outside water. Read on to find out more about these unique marine creatures.

Starfish, also known as sea stars, are fascinating creatures found in oceans worldwide. With their unique physical features and behaviors, these animals have captured the attention of marine enthusiasts for ages. However, one question that frequently arises is how long can starfish live out of water?


Understanding the environmental conditions that affect starfish lifespan outside water is crucial for their conservation.
Understanding the environmental conditions that affect starfish lifespan outside water is crucial for their conservation.

Before we dive into this topic, let’s start with a brief definition of starfish. These animals belong to the phylum Echinodermata and are characterized by their radial symmetry, five-pointed shape, tube feet, and spiny skin. While most species of starfish inhabit shallow waters, some can be found at depths greater than 6,000 meters.

Importance of the Topic

Conservation efforts such as rescuing stranded starfish and returning them safely to their natural habitat are essential in protecting this marine species.
Conservation efforts such as rescuing stranded starfish and returning them safely to their natural habitat are essential in protecting this marine species.

The survival of any organism is crucial to maintaining ecological balance in our planet’s habitats. Understanding how long starfish can live outside water is essential to protect them from endangerment or extinction. Additionally, knowing how to handle stranded or injured starfish can help preserve their populations. Therefore, it is vital to explore this topic more in-depthly.

Anatomy and Physiology of Starfish

Starfish have unique physical features that distinguish them from other marine animals. Their body shape is characterized by five arms or rays that extend outwards from a central disk, giving them their iconic star-like appearance.

Physical Features of Starfish

The skin of a starfish is covered in tiny spines called dermal ossicles, which protect the animal from predators and provide support for its movement. These creatures also have tube feet, small suction-cup-like appendages located on the underside of their arms used to grip onto surfaces.

How They Breathe

Starfish breathe through structures called papulae, which are located on the surface of their skin. These structures help regulate gas exchange between the animal’s internal organs and the surrounding seawater.

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How They Move Without Water

When submerged in water, starfish use their tube feet to move around by creating hydraulic pressure within each foot. However, when removed from water, they can still move using a combination of muscle contractions and water vascular system movements. This allows them to slowly crawl across surfaces until they reach water again.

Habitat and Behavior of Starfish

Starfish can be found in every ocean worldwide, from the shallow intertidal zone to depths greater than 6,000 meters. They live on rocky or sandy seabeds, coral reefs, and kelp forests.

Where They Live

Different species of starfish have adapted to specific habitats and are usually found where their preferred food is abundant. For instance, the sunflower starfish inhabits rocky areas and feeds on sea urchins, while the sand dollar starfish lives in sandy environments.

Their Feeding Habits

Starfish are opportunistic feeders that eat a variety of prey such as mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. They use their tube feet to capture their prey by wrapping themselves around it and then pushing their stomach outside their mouth to digest the food externally. This feeding process is known as “extruding their stomach.”

Reproduction Process

Most starfish species reproduce sexually by releasing eggs and sperm into the water during mating season. However, some species can also reproduce asexually through regeneration. When a starfish’s arm is lost due to predation or injury, it can regrow its limb if enough of its central disc remains intact.

What Happens When They Are Out of Water for Too Long

When starfish are out of water for too long, they face several challenges that affect their survival. Since they breathe through gills located on their skin surface, lack of moisture can cause dehydration and lead to death. Additionally, being out of water for extended periods can result in damage to their internal organs and tissues due to heat stress or exposure to sunlight.

Therefore, it is crucial to handle stranded or injured starfish with care when returning them to their natural habitat.

Factors that Affect the Lifespan of Starfish Out of Water

Starfish are remarkable creatures that can survive outside water for a while. However, several factors affect their lifespan when out of water.


Temperature is a crucial factor affecting starfish’s survival rate when outside water. These animals thrive in cold water temperatures and may not survive long periods in warm environments. Therefore, exposure to high temperatures can cause dehydration, leading to death.


Another critical factor influencing starfish’s longevity outside water is humidity. When exposed to dry air, these animals lose moisture rapidly, and their skin becomes brittle and fragile. Therefore, low humidity levels lead to dehydration and affect their overall health.

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Exposure to Sunlight

Starfish do not have any natural protection against UV radiation from sunlight. Thus, extended exposure to direct sunlight can cause severe damage to their body tissues. Prolonged exposure may result in overheating and dehydration leading to the animal’s death.

In conclusion, it is essential to consider these environmental factors when handling stranded starfish. By providing appropriate conditions for these creatures, we can help preserve their populations and prevent endangerment or extinction.

Actual Duration a Starfish can Live Out of Water

Starfish have been known to survive outside water for varying periods, depending on the species and environmental conditions. Here are some interesting facts about starfish survival rates outside of water.

The Longest Recorded Time a Starfish has Survived Outside Water

The longest recorded time that a starfish has survived out of water is three days. This record was set by a common sunstar (Crossaster papposus), which was accidentally left out of the water in an aquarium for 80 hours. While this is impressive, it is essential to note that most species cannot survive for more than a few hours without water.

Different Species’ Survival Rates Outside Water

Each species of starfish has unique adaptations that allow them to survive in different environments, including outside of water. Some species such as cushion stars (Pentaceraster cumingi) can survive up to eight hours without water. In contrast, others like red-knobbed starfish (Protoreaster linckii) can only last several minutes.

Factors such as temperature, humidity, and exposure to sunlight also affect how long a starfish can live outside water. Warmer temperatures increase metabolic rates, leading to faster dehydration and death. Therefore, it is crucial not to assume that all species can survive for extended periods without water and take extra care when handling stranded or injured animals.

Ways to Help a Stranded Starfish

If you come across a stranded starfish, it is crucial to handle them with care as they are delicate creatures. Here are some safety measures and proper ways to return them to their natural habitat:

Safety Measures to Follow When Handling a Stranded Starfish

  1. Wear gloves: Always wear gloves when handling starfish as they can be sensitive to human touch.

  2. Lift gently: When picking up the starfish, lift gently from underneath using both hands.

  3. Avoid contact with spines: Some species of starfish have sharp spines that can prick your skin. Be cautious when handling them and avoid touching the spines.

  4. Do not remove them from the water for long periods: If possible, keep the starfish submerged in seawater while transporting them.

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Proper Way to Return Them to Their Natural Habitat

  1. Find an appropriate location: Choose a spot where there is plenty of seawater and little disturbance.

  2. Place them back in the water: Gently place the starfish back into the water with their arms facing downwards.

  3. Observe their behavior: Wait and observe if the starfish starts moving on its own once placed back in the water.

By following these safety measures and proper returning techniques, we can help protect these magnificent animals and preserve their populations for future generations.

Conservation Efforts for Starfish Populations

With the rapid decline of marine life, it has become increasingly essential to implement conservation measures to protect these creatures. The same goes for starfish populations that have suffered from various threats over the years. Let’s take a look at some of these threats and efforts put in place to conserve them.

Threats Facing Starfish Population

Starfish face numerous threats that endanger their survival. Climate change, pollution, habitat loss, overfishing, and ocean acidification are among the primary factors that contribute to this problem. Climate change affects sea temperatures and causes coral bleaching, which reduces food sources for starfish. Pollution and habitat loss caused by human activities affect water quality and destroy their natural habitats. Overfishing also impacts their population as they serve as prey for several fish species.

Efforts Put in Place to Conserve Them

Several organizations worldwide have implemented measures to conserve starfish populations. These efforts aim to mitigate the impact of the threats mentioned above and preserve their natural habitats. Some initiatives include promoting sustainable fishing practices, reducing plastic waste through beach clean-ups, educating the public on marine conservation, and monitoring population numbers regularly.

Research is also ongoing to understand better the behavior and biology of different species of starfish. This information can help develop strategies for protecting these animals effectively. Additionally, captive breeding programs are being established to raise young starfish in a controlled environment before releasing them into the wild.

In conclusion, implementing conservation measures is crucial to protect starfish populations facing numerous threats today. We must work together globally to ensure that we preserve our oceans’ biodiversity for future generations.


In conclusion, understanding how long starfish can live out of water is crucial to preserving their populations and maintaining ecological balance in our planet’s habitats. We now know that starfish can survive outside water for varying lengths of time depending on several factors such as temperature, humidity, and exposure to sunlight.

It is also essential to note that handling stranded or injured starfish requires utmost care to avoid causing harm to them. Always ensure your safety by wearing protective gear when picking up a stranded starfish, and return it to its natural habitat as soon as possible.

Conservation efforts are necessary to protect the different species of starfish from endangerment or extinction. These conservation efforts include protecting their habitats and reducing pollution levels in the ocean.

As we continue exploring the mysteries of the ocean, let us remember that every animal has an important role to play in maintaining ecological balance. By taking care of these marine creatures, we are not only helping them but also ensuring a better future for ourselves.


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