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Are Starfish Dangerous? Is it Safe to Handle a Starfish?


Even as an adult, I still find immense joy in watching Spongebob Squarepants. One character from the show that has always captured my heart is Patrick. This delightful pink starfish serves as both a comedic presence and a wonderful best friend to Spongebob. Throughout the series, Patrick is mostly portrayed as a harmless marine echinoderm.

However, I couldn’t help but wonder about the real-life nature of starfish and whether they pose any danger. In general, starfish are not considered dangerous. However, it is worth noting that certain species of these sea stars are poisonous and can cause harm to humans. Starfish possess toxins within their bodies, which serve as a defence mechanism. While they do have spines, starfish primarily rely on the venomous substances found in their spines for self-protection.

Are Starfish Dangerous

Are Starfish Poisonous?

Not all sea stars are poisonous, and it’s interesting to note that only a small number of starfish species possess toxic venom. Fortunately, most of these venomous starfish are typically found on the ocean floor, and their venom serves as a defence mechanism against predators. Instances of starfish actively attacking humans are rare.

The crown-of-thorns starfish is one of the most well-known poisonous species. It also happens to be the largest starfish within its family, measuring an average of 25 to 35 centimetres in size. This particular sea star boasts 21 arms, all equipped with venomous spikes that pose a threat to both humans and marine creatures.

Even if a person wears a diving suit or wetsuit, these sharp and rigid spikes can penetrate through the fabric. While crown-of-thorns starfish primarily reside on the ocean floor, some may be found under coral rubble.

If someone were to be punctured by the starfish’s spike, there is a possibility that venom could be injected into their skin. The venom can result in symptoms such as nausea, swelling in the affected area, and potential infection. Notably, extreme pain is among the discomfort caused by the venom. It is advisable to avoid direct contact with these sea stars and appreciate them from a safe distance.

Thankfully, although their venom is dangerous, the poison of a crown-of-thorns starfish is not lethal to humans.

Can You Touch a Starfish?

While it is technically possible to touch a starfish, it is generally not recommended. Sea stars have prickly, spiky arms that can cause physical harm or deliver toxins. Handling starfish can also be detrimental to the creature itself. Some starfish species possess venomous spikes, making it important for only professionals and experts to touch or handle them.

Although most starfish are not poisonous, it is still discouraged to take them out of the water. This is particularly true for subtidal species, as they can become stressed when removed from their natural aquatic environment.

It is unwise to have direct skin contact with a starfish. Certain starfish species have strong adhesive tube feet, which can lead to either hair loss for humans or limb loss for the starfish when attempting to detach from the skin.

Additionally, there is a risk of transferring bacteria or chemicals to the starfish. Moreover, if starfish are not promptly returned to the water, they can die. While the starfish may remain unharmed during human interaction, the person who touched them may suffer from skin injuries.

A 2008 case report published by the Japanese Dermatological Association states that in instances of starfish spike punctures resulting in subcutaneous indurations and swelling, surgery may be necessary as a treatment option.

Can Starfish Hurt You?

Yes, starfish have the potential to cause physical harm, although it is not their intention to actively inflict harm. Injuries or poisonings resulting from starfish encounters are rare and usually occur due to accidents or human mishandling. The spikes and venom present in some starfish species can puncture the skin, leading to pain and injuries.

Certain starfish employ spikes and venom as a defence mechanism against potential predators. However, these defensive traits do not always deter predators from hunting them. For example, the crown-of-thorns starfish is targeted by the Pacific triton, a large snail that injects venom to capture its prey. Coral fish also feed on starfish eggs and weakened adult starfish.

Nevertheless, the situation is not as alarming as it may initially sound, as starfish like the crown of thorns have been causing significant damage to coral reefs. In extreme cases, scientists have intervened by killing certain adult crown-of-thorns starfish. They extract the venom from these starfish and administer it into their own stomachs, hoping to decrease coral destruction.

Can Starfish Kill You?

No, starfish are not capable of causing fatal harm to humans with their venom or spikes. While their poison can induce significant pain and discomfort, such as swelling and nausea, it is important to note that these effects are not life-threatening.

With proper treatment, injuries caused by starfish venom or spikes can heal, and there are usually no long-term complications. Interestingly, the opposite effect can occur when humans touch starfish. In fact, it is the starfish that are more likely to suffer harm.

Starfish are marine creatures that depend on living underwater. When lifted out of the water, they are unable to breathe properly. Starfish utilize their tube feet for respiration, and being removed from their aquatic habitat deprives them of this essential process.

Furthermore, lifting starfish out of the water can cause them to experience stress. While not all starfish are equally sensitive, even simple physical contact can disrupt their well-being and make them more prone to stress-related issues.

Do Starfish Bite?

No, starfish do not have the ability to bite. These echinoderms use their spikes and venom as a defence mechanism, and their mouth is primarily for feeding purposes. Furthermore, starfish do not possess teeth, and they are significantly smaller compared to humans.

Starfish are not known for displaying aggression towards humans or intentionally causing harm. Unlike animals that rely on biting as a means of attack, starfish typically attempt to pierce or poke the skin if direct contact is made.

If you closely examine a starfish’s mouth, you will notice that it does not resemble a traditional “mouth.” Instead, they have beak-like structures that resemble a parrot’s bill. These beaks are used by starfish to crack open the shells of molluscs. Subsequently, the starfish employs its ambulacral system to move the broken pieces of the mollusc towards its mouth for ingestion.

However, if you were to directly touch a starfish’s beak with your finger, there is a possibility that it might respond in a manner that resembles a “bite.” Nevertheless, there have been no documented cases of such attacks occurring, and it remains a presumption.

In summary, starfish are not equipped to bite or intentionally harm humans. Their beaks are designed for feeding, and while there is a potential for a “bite-like” response if their beak is directly touched, there is no evidence of starfish attacking humans.

Do Starfish Sting?

Yes, it is possible for starfish to sting you with their venomous spikes, typically when you accidentally step on them or touch them. While not all starfish have poisonous spikes, some can still prick you with their spines.

There are instances where starfish can be safely handled without getting stung. This is often done by professionals who use protective gloves to minimize the risk of injury.

However, if you find yourself stung by a starfish, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Medical practitioners will likely administer antibiotics to prevent infection and carefully remove any spines that may be embedded in your skin.

The symptoms of starfish stings can vary depending on the severity of the case. In mild cases, common symptoms may include itching, swelling, bleeding at the punctured area, tingling sensations, and numbness.

In more severe cases, symptoms may include unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, and muscular spasms.

It is crucial to treat starfish stings seriously and seek appropriate medical care to ensure proper management and minimize potential complications.


Is it safe to touch a starfish?

To ensure the well-being of starfish and other sea creatures, it is best to refrain from touching or removing them from the water. Starfish rely on absorbing oxygen from the water through channels on their outer body, and taking them out of their natural habitat can lead to suffocation.

Can touching starfish make you sick?

Numerous marine creatures utilize venoms and toxins for both hunting and self-defence purposes. Among them are animals that possess toxins capable of causing severe harm to humans. A single encounter with a crown-of-thorns starfish can expose individuals to a toxin that is five times more potent than bee venom, leading to potentially grave consequences. These toxins serve as a reminder of the importance of exercising caution and avoiding contact with such species to ensure personal safety.

Which starfish are poisonous?

The crown-of-thorns starfish 

What happens if you get stung by a starfish?

Typically, symptoms of a starfish sting are relatively short-lived, lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours before subsiding. However, in more severe cases or instances of envenomation, additional symptoms may occur, including numbness, tingling, weakness, nausea, vomiting, joint aches, headaches, cough, and, rarely, paralysis. It is important to note that severe reactions or envenomations from starfish stings are relatively uncommon. If you experience any of these severe symptoms or if your condition worsens, it is recommended to seek immediate medical attention for proper evaluation and appropriate treatment.

Final Words 

Starfish are generally not considered dangerous creatures. They do not possess any intention to harm humans, as they do not perceive us as either prey or predators.

Interestingly, it is humans who may inadvertently cause harm to starfish. When starfish are lifted out of the water, they can suffer from oxygen poisoning and eventually die.

While starfish are not actively seeking to harm humans, there are instances where they can cause injuries. These echinoderms have the ability to puncture our skin, injecting their venomous substance.

If such an injury occurs, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Fortunately, starfish venom is not typically lethal to humans. However, it can produce uncomfortable side effects.

It is crucial to handle starfish with care and avoid situations that may lead to harm for both the starfish and humans.


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A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.

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A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.


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