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Hungry Arctic predator with a lot of arms that eats dead polar bears

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Hungry predators lie on the arctic seabed ready to eat dead polar bears.

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The voracious carnivores are sea stars, better known as sea stars, and a new study by a national research group says they are linked to polar bears as the Arctic marine ecosystem’s largest predators.

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Co-author Remi Amiraux, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Manitoba, said seafloor or benthic organisms are not commonly studied because they are often assumed to be lower down the food chain.

But the study that was published in last month Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the sea floor contains organisms from across the food chain.

Starfish from the Pterasteridae family sat at the top, and the study called them “the benthic equivalent of polar bears.”

In this file photo taken on August 4, 2022, a polar bear is attacked by an arctic tern defending its nest while searching for something to eat on the coast near Churchill, Man.
In this file photo taken on August 4, 2022, a polar bear is attacked by an arctic tern defending its nest while searching for something to eat on the coast near Churchill, Man. Photo by OLIVIER MORIN /AFP via Getty Images

“It’s a shift in how we see how the Arctic coast food web works,” Amiraux said in an interview.

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He said that invertebrates, or spineless creatures, that live in sediments on the Arctic sea floor aren’t just made up of herbivorous herbivores.

“They have an entire food web, including primary predators, herbivores, and many carnivores. So it’s a lot more complex than we thought,” Amiraux said.


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The study’s authors say that “megafaunal-predatory” Pterasteridae starfish thrive in this area “due to their evolved defense mechanism associated with a diet of other predators, including carcasses of marine mammals, that settle on the sea floor.”

Amiraux said that while polar bears don’t eat starfish, “the opposite is quite true.”

“When a polar bear dies, it can actually be eaten by carnivorous starfish,” Amiraux said.

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Researchers studied 1,580 wildlife samples around Southampton Island in Nunavut in the Hudson Bay to understand how the ecosystem works and to help governing bodies protect and conserve marine life in the region.

The Southampton Island region has been identified by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as an area of ​​interest for marine protected area designation.

Amiraux said food webs provide insight into how ecosystems work.

He noted that although the study focused on one area in the Arctic, starfish are found worldwide, so it’s likely “there’s the same structure or food web everywhere on the seafloor.”

“I don’t think it’s unique to the coastal environment,” he said. “We’re going to be able to see that in pretty much all environments.”

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