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Sea Star vs. Starfish: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on January 27, 2024
"Sea star" and "starfish" refer to the same marine echinoderms; "sea star" is used more in scientific contexts, while "starfish" is common in general use.

Key Differences

Sea stars, often known as starfish, are marine echinoderms characterized by their star-shaped body. The term "sea star" is increasingly used in scientific circles to emphasize that these creatures are not fish, contrasting with "starfish," a term popular in general usage but less accurate scientifically.
The name "sea star" aligns with recent efforts to rename certain species for scientific accuracy, while "starfish" remains a colloquial term deeply ingrained in popular culture. Both names describe the same animals, known for their regenerative abilities and radial symmetry.
"Sea star" reflects a more anatomically correct descriptor, highlighting that these animals belong to the echinoderm family, not related to fish. In contrast, "starfish" is a traditional name that dates back to when marine biology categorization was less precise.
"Sea star" is encouraged in educational and scientific contexts for clarity, while "starfish" is still widely accepted and used in literature, media, and everyday conversation. The usage of either term depends largely on the context and audience.
Both "sea star" and "starfish" refer to the same fascinating creatures found in a variety of marine environments, from tidal pools to deep sea habitats. The choice between the two terms reflects a balance between scientific accuracy and popular vernacular.

Comparison Chart

Preferred Usage

Scientific, educational
General, colloquial


Emphasizes non-fish status
Traditional, less precise


Growing in scientific texts
Widely recognized

Contextual Accuracy

More accurate
Less accurate


Scientists, educators
General public

Sea Star and Starfish Definitions

Sea Star

This term emphasizes their echinoderm classification, not fish.
Sea stars, unlike fish, breathe through their feet.


It's a colloquial term widely used in literature and media.
The storybook featured a starfish as the main character.

Sea Star

Sea star refers to a marine echinoderm with a star-shaped body.
The sea star can regenerate lost arms over time.


Starfish are noted for their ability to regenerate limbs.
The starfish in the tank regrew its lost arm.

Sea Star

It's a scientifically preferred term for these non-fish creatures.
In our marine biology class, we studied the anatomy of a sea star.


Starfish is a common name for star-shaped marine echinoderms.
Children love finding starfish along the shoreline.

Sea Star

Sea stars are known for their radial symmetry and diverse species.
The colorful sea stars added beauty to the aquarium exhibit.


This term has been traditionally used but is less scientifically accurate.
Starfish are often mistakenly thought of as fish.

Sea Star

Sea stars inhabit various marine environments worldwide.
We observed sea stars during our deep-sea diving expedition.


Starfish vary in size, color, and habitat in oceans around the world.
On our snorkeling trip, we saw a variety of starfish.

Sea Star

(obsolete) A star used for navigation or guidance at sea.


Any of various marine echinoderms of the class Asteroidea, characteristically having a thick, often spiny body with five arms extending from a central disk. Also called asteroid, sea star.


Any of various asteroids or other echinoderms (not in fact fish) with usually five arms, many of which eat bivalves or corals by everting their stomach.


Do sea stars breathe underwater?

Yes, they breathe through tiny structures on their feet.

Can both sea stars and starfish regenerate limbs?

Yes, both can regenerate lost arms.

Can sea stars be found in deep ocean environments?

Yes, they inhabit a range of depths, including deep sea.

Can starfish survive out of water?

Only for a short time; they need water to breathe.

Are sea star and starfish the same?

Yes, both terms refer to the same marine echinoderms.

Is starfish a scientifically accurate term?

Less so; it's a traditional name that doesn't reflect their true nature.

Are starfish found in freshwater environments?

No, they are exclusively marine creatures.

What do starfish eat?

They eat small invertebrates and sometimes algae.

Do starfish have a brain?

No, they lack a centralized brain but have a nerve network.

Why is the term sea star preferred scientifically?

It more accurately reflects their classification as echinoderms, not fish.

Do starfish have eyes?

Yes, they have eye spots at the end of each arm.

Can sea stars change color?

Some species can change color for camouflage.

Do sea stars have blood?

No, they have a water vascular system for circulation.

How do sea stars move?

They use hundreds of tube feet to move along the ocean floor.

Are starfish endangered?

Some species are threatened due to habitat loss and climate change.

How do sea stars reproduce?

They reproduce both sexually and asexually.

Can starfish be kept in home aquariums?

Yes, but they require specific care and conditions.

How many species of sea stars are there?

There are over 2,000 known species of sea stars.

What is the lifespan of a sea star?

It varies, but some can live up to 35 years.

Are starfish part of coral reef ecosystems?

Yes, they play a role in many reef ecosystems.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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