Open Journal of Marine Science, 2012, 2, 51-57 Published Online April 2012 (
Taxonomic Study on the Feather Stars (Crinoidea:
Echinodermata) from Egyptian Red Sea
Coasts and Suez Canal, Egypt
Ahmed M. Hellal
Marine Biology and Fish Science Section, Zoology Department,
Faculty of Science, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt
Received November 27, 2011; revised January 16, 2012; accepted January 25, 2012
A taxonomic study on the crinoids (feather stars) collected from 34 sites from the Red Sea coasts and islands as well as
the Suez Canal was done during the period from 1992 to 2003. A total of 15 species are now known from the Red Sea
belonging to eleven genera under six families. Among them four species are endemic to the Red Sea and the two spe-
cies, Decametra chadwicki and Lamprometra klunzingeri, are recorded from the Suez Canal for the first time. Also, the
two species, Oligometra serripinna and Dorometra aegyptica, are new record from Gulf of Suez, and Decametra mollis
from Gulf of Aqaba and Northern Red Sea. This study represents the first proper documentation of crinoid species in
the study area. Summaries are provided of the specific habitats and geographical distribution.
Keywords: Crinoidea; Red Sea; Suez Canal; Taxonomy; Habitats; Geographical Distribution
1. Introduction
Feather-stars constitute group of echinoderms belonging
to class Crinoidea and order Comatulida, having five to
hundreds of arms surrounding their cup-like bodies [1,2].
Just like their closest relatives, the sea lilies, feather stars
are stalked only in the juvenile stage but detach their
cup-like bodies in the adult stage to become freely mov-
ing or motile crinoids [2]. Feather stars are regarded as
primitive echinoderms and today’s living species all be-
long to the subclass Articulata [3]. Order Comatulida is
composed of 18 extant families, with family Comasteri-
dae being the most common in tropical shallow-water in
both the Indo-West Pacific and the Western Atlantic [4-
7]. Feather stars are among the least known echinoderms
attributable to difficulty in their collection on account of
their fragile nature, secretive habits, and distribution in
deep waters. Also, their identification requires patience
and painstaking attention to morphological details [8,9].
In the Red Sea, although it is believed that shallow wa-
ters (<50 m deep) are inhabited by living species of
feather stars [10,11], there are no documented studies to
warrant this claim. In present study, identified key of all
crinoid species known from the Red Sea was applied.
Also summaries of the specific habitats and geographical
distributio n are provided.
2. Material and Methods
2.1. Field Observation, Collection and
Many field trips were made to the Egyptian Red Sea
coasts and islands, Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez and Suez
Canal lakes during the period from 1992 to 2003. A total
of 34 sites were surveyed and intensive collections of
feather stars were done. The survey included both tidal
and subtidal habitats (e.g. coral reefs and rocky h abitats).
At each site, characteristics of specific habitats, position
and site name, community structure, substrate type and
crinoid distribution were recorded (Table 1). To loosen
the animal’s grip on the substrate, a small metal bar was
inserted between the cirri and the substrate, a technique
employed to avoid possible breakage to the fragile arms.
The animals were then placed in containers filled with
sea-water and transported back to land, the natural color
was noted. The specimens were then carefully lifted and
immersed into their respective sea-water-filled containers
to which 95% ethanol (3 parts sea water: 1 part 95%
ethanol) was added, oral side down with arms spread out.
Using the fingers, pressure was gently applied for about
30 second to restrain and keep the specimen in place and
hasten fixation. When the animal became totally immo-
bile, the seawater-95% ethnol solution was replaced a
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Table 1. List of surveyed stations and habitat types along the coasts of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aqaba and Gulf of Suez during
the period of study (1992-2003).
Site description
No. Site name Latitude Longitude Habitat types
1 Ras Abu-Galum 28.3750 34.3550 Coral, Rubble/Cobble, Sand
2 Sharm El-Sheik 27.5070 34.1625 Live coral, Rock, Gravel, Sand
3 Ain Sukhna I 29.3334 32.2169 Live coral, Rock
4 Ain Sukhna II 29.3100 32.2309 Sand, Rocks, Seagrass
5 Marine Station 27.2835 33.7725 Live coral, Sand, Rock
6 Abu Monkar Island (West) 27.2115 33.8786 Rock, Live and dead corals, S and
7 El Gaftoon El-Sagher Island 27.1861 33.9825 Dead coral, Sand, Rock, Gravel
8 Abu Ramad Island west 27.1672 33.9805 Live coral, Rock, Sand
9 Abu Ramad Island South 27.1575 33.9788 Live coral, Rock, Gravel
10 Gota Abu Ramad I 27.1391 33.9532 Live and dead corals
11 Dishshet El-Dabaah 27.0333 33.8842 Sand, Seagrass, Coral rubble
12 Sharm El-Arab 26.9013 33.9631 Live coral, Gravel, Seagrass
13 Wadi Gwases 26.5576 33.8733 Dead coral, Sand, Seagrass
14 Kalawy Beach 26.3973 34.1213 Live coral, Sand, Rock, Gravel
15 Wadi Abu Hamrah 26.2783 34.1833 Sand, Dead coral, Gravel
16 Mangrove village 25.8710 34.4160 Rock, Sand, Dead coral
17 Sharm El-Bahari 25.8702 34.4168 Live coral, Sand, seagrass
18 Marsa Trumbi 25.6552 34.6045 Dead coral, Rock
19 Marsa Abu Dabab 25.3415 34.7371 Live and dead corals, Sand, Seagrass
20 Marsa Abu Arikae 25.2179 34.8032 Dead coral, Rock, Sand,
21 Marsa Gabal El-Rassas 25.2048 34.8086 Live coral, Rock, Sand
22 Marsa Asslayah 25.1561 34.8519 Live and dead corals, Rock, Gravel
23 Marsa Samadi 25.0105 34.9230 Dead coral, Sand, Seagrass
24 Marsa El-Nakari 24.9261 34.9230 Dead coral, Rock, Sand
25 Jibal El-Talayah 24.7125 35.8388 Live coral, Sand, Seagrass
26 Wadi El-Jimal 24.6583 35.0833 Dead coral, Rock, Gravel, Sand
27 Sharm El- Lolyah 24.6068 35.1125 Live coral, Rock, Gravel, Sand
28 Ras Hankurab 24.572 5 35.0388 Live coral, Sand, Seagrass
29 Marsa Hamata 24.2850 35.3773 Rock, Gravel, Sand, Coral rubble
30 (3 km) South Lahmmi 24.1977 35.4205 Dead coral, Rock, Sand, Seagrass
31 Roman Village 24.1727 35.4438 Sand, Dead coral, Gravel, Seagrass
32 Mowelhah fishing village 24.0027 35.6805 Sand, Rock, Dead coral
33 Ras Benas 23.9000 35.7833 Sand, Rock, Live coral, Gravel
34 El-Homirah 23.4715 35.4869 Dead coral, Sand, Seagrass
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with the 70% etha nol, as the final fixative [12,13].
2.2. Morphological Examination, Identification
and Measurement
Specimens were examined, noting important diagnostic
features [14]. The body of crinoids is supported by cal-
cium carbonate skeleton covered by a tissue layer (=skin).
The central body (=theca) that houses the viscera is
composed of a series of articulated ossicles forming the
calyx. The theca and pinnule-bearing arms (brachials) of
stalked juvenile feather stars make up the crown, while
unstalked adult feather stars have cirri characterized as
long hook-like structures for attachment. The calyx is
composed of five basal ossicles (=basals) which may be
absent or reduced, and five radial ossicles (radials) that
support the central disk. Ambulacral grooves extend from
the mouth to the arms and pinnules. The centrodorsal
(discoidal, hemispherical, cylindrical, star- or cone-shap ed)
is a large ossicle at the center of the aboral side of the
body, where there are sockets for cirri attachment. Two
arms, cirri, and the diameter of the central disk were
measured in cm. The status of each species was deter-
mined using the following categories.
“Rare species” was applied when only 1 - 5 indi-
viduals of a species were present.
“Common species” was given for a species having 5 -
10 individuals.
“Abundant species” for a species has more than 10
At the laboratory, crinoid specimens were sorted and
identified using standard keys [10,11,15,16]. In addition,
some important taxonomic works [17-21] were used in
the identification of the specimen at the family, genus
and species level.
The species list for the crinoids of the Red Sea and
adjacent waters such as Arabian Gulf, Southeast Arabia
and East Africa was compiled using the present data and
information from the works of available literatures. The
geographical distribution patterns of crinoid species, re-
corded in the present study and adjacent waters were
The following terms are used in the identification and
description of crinoid species (Figure 1).
Brachials: the calcareous ossicles of the arm (extend-
ing the division series).
Centrodorsal: the large plates occupying the center of
the dorsal or aboral side, in shape discoidal, hemispheri-
cal, or sometimes conical and usually bearing cirri except
on its apex or do r sal pol e .
Cirri: the jointed appendages arising from the centro-
dorsal, for temporary attachment to the substrate.
Radials: the five plates from which the division series
(or arms) arise; superficially they are only narrowly visi-
Figure 1. Introductory figure of crinoid, omitting to the
arms, showing parts mentioned in terms (after Clark and
Rowe, 1971).
ble in adults of most species.
Division series: the ossicles between the radials and
the first brachials of the undivided arms absent only in
five armed genera; the distalmost ossicle of the division
series is an axillary.
Pinnules: the slender jointed appendages arising from
the brachials on alternate sides, the proximal one or more
of which are modified as oral pinnules. The pinnules on
the outer (inter-radial) side of the arm are designated P1,
P2, etc. and the inner side Pa, Pb, etc.
Zyzygy: a rigid breaking-joint occurring at intervals in
division series and arms, often regularly placed; the ar-
ticulation is by ligament rather th an muscles and the joint
faces bear numerous fine radiating ridges so that exter-
nally the suture may appe ar discontinuous or undulating.
3. Results
Key to the Species, Genera and Families
Recorded in the Present Study
1 Proximal pinnules very flexible and with some of
the terminal segments modified to form a comb
Figure 2(a)”; mouth near the edge of the disc
and anal tube approximately central.
- No comb on the proximal pinnules, their terminal
segments simply tapering or only very finely
thorny. 3
2(1) Only 10 arms; up to 13 cirrus segments at arm
length 30 - 40 mm.
Comissia hartmeyeri A. H.Clark, 1912.
- More than 10 arms; 14 or 15 cirrus segments at
arm length 35 - 40 mm.
Capillaster multiradiatus (Linnaeus, 1758).
3(1) Middle and distal cirrus segments with a pair of
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dorsal spines or tubercles, one each side of the
midline, rarely transverse ridge “Figure 2(b)”.
- Distal cirrus segments with a median prominence
(dorsal spine, tubercle or longitudinal crest) or
quite smooth “Figures 2(c) and (d)”. 7
4(3) Cirri large with 36 - 48 segments, which have
distinctly spinose distal edge.
Colobometr a a rabi ca A. H. Clark, 1937.
- Cirri smaller with <30 segments, their distal ends
smooth. 5
5(4) Cirri wide and flat on the dorsal side, with curved
transverse ridges or only small blunt paired tu-
bercles; P2 stout and markedly prismatic with a
saw-like profile (Figure 2(e)); Pa (the pinnule in
the inner side of the fourth brachial) present on
all or most of the arm.
Oligometra serripinna (P. H. Carpenter, 1881).
- Cirri laterally compressed, not markedly flat-
tened dorsally, the paired tubercles usually coni-
cal; P2 not consp icuously modified “Figure 2(f)”;
Pa absent often more than not.
6(5) P2 over three times the length of P1; cirri
numbering X V II -X XI I, usually c. XX.
Decametra mollis (A. H. Clark, 1909).
- P
2 rarely more than twice the length of P1; cirri
numbering XIII-XIX, usually c. XVI.
Decametra chadwicki (A. H. Clark, 1911).
7(3) The proximal pinnules at least with a slight,
sometimes well marked, keel or series of proc-
esses on the dorsal side basally “Figure 2(g)”, or
else all the pinnules prismatic for their entire
length; often more than 10 arms; the second bra-
chial zyzygy usually farther out than brachials 9
and 10; the brachials distinctly wider than long
for at least the proximal half of the arm, some-
times discoidal in shape. 8
- No keel on the dorsal surface of any of the pin-
nules; only 10 arms; the second brachial zyzygy
almost invariably at 9 + 10; brachials after about
the fourteenth usually as long as wide or longer
and distinctly wedge-shape.
8(7) Only the proximal pinnules at all prismatic; the
distal pinnules, if not all of them, flexible and not
conspicuously stiffened. 9
- All the pinnules prismatic and conspicuously
straight and stiff; 10 arms only and carinate dor-
sally, at least in the proximal half; no dorsal or
ventral processes on the cirrus segments “Figure
Tropiometra carina ta (Lamarck, 1816).
9(8) Ten or more arms; if more than 10 then the ex-
ternal IIBr series at least usually of four ossicles
Figure 2(k)”.
- Always more than 10 arms, the IIBr series and
any other division series of 2 ossicles “Figure
10(9) Dorsal spines on the distal cirrus segments sharp
and usually long, some cirrus segments longer
than broad; usually 20 arms; P2 and P3 similar in
size “Figure 2(f)”.
Heterometra savignii (Muller, 1841).
- Spines or tubercles developed gradually over
several cirrus segments, usually all short and
blunt, cirri segments broader than long; 14 arms;
P2 smaller than P3.
Heterometra atra (A. H. Clark, 1911).
11(9) One or more of the enlarged proximal pinnules
(P2, sometimes P3) very stiff and spike-like, of-
ten recurved over the disc; division series well
separated with rounded ventrolateral extensions
Figure 2(h)”.
- Enlarged proximal pinnules (P2) tapering, slen-
der and usually flexible; division series without
ventrolateral extension, variable in form but the
adjacent ones often straight-sided and closely
approximating laterally “Figure 2(i)”.
Lamprometra kl unzi ngeri (Hartlaub, 189 0).
12(11) P3 and the following pinnules smaller and more
flexible than P2 which is the only spike-like pin-
nule. Stephanometra indica (Smith, 1876).
- P3 spike-like, resembling P2 but usually smaller.
Stephano metra spicata (P. H. Carpenter, 1881).
13(7) P3 the largest pinnule; cirrus segments overlap-
ping the succeeding segments.
- P
1 with only 8 - 11 segments and larger than P3.
Antedon parvi fl or a (A. H. Clark, 1912).
14(13) Cirri relatively small, their length usually be-
tween a fifth and sixth of the arm length.
Dorometra parvicirra (P. H. Carpenter, 1888).
- Cirri larger, about a third of the arm length.
Dorometr a aegyptica (A. H. Clark, 1911).
4. Discussion
Crinoids are prominent part of coral reef crypto fauna
[22]. Although they are not as species rich (15 species) as
ophiuroids 49 species [23], asteroids 36 species [24],
holothuroids 28 species [25] or brachyuran crabs 361
species [26] and bivalves 180 species [27] many of such
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Figure 2. (a) Terminal comb of an oral pinnule of comaster-
ids feather star; cirri of: (b) Colobometrid, genus De-
cametra (dorsal view); (c) Heterometra savignyii; (d) Tropio-
metra carinata (all side view); proximal pinnules: (e) P2 of
Oli-gometra serripinna; (f) Base of Pd (pinnule of IIBr divi-
sion series), P1 and P2 of Heterometra savignyii; (g) P2 of
Tropiometra carinata (all right side of postradial series);
interradii of: (h) Stephanometra indica; (i) Lamprometra
klunzingeri; division series and arm base of a single radius
of: (j) Mariametridae; (k) Himerometridae.
species are large in size and others are numerically
The total number of crinoids recorded in the Northern
Red Sea and the areas used for comparison (adjacent
waters as in [10,18,20]) were given in “Table 2”. Also
shown are the species that appear to be endemic. The
total number of crinoid fauna reco rded from the Red Sea
in the present stud y is 15 species, belonging to 11 gen era
and 6 families. Gulf of Aqaba and Northern Red sea were
the more diverse in their crinoid fauna than other areas,
where they included 12 and 11 species respectively.
While Gulf of Suez contained 9 species and Suez Canal
comprised only two crinoid species. Most crinoids were
recorded in Sothern Red Sea (12 species), with fewer
and/or even less species in the East Africa, South-East
Arabia and Arabian Gulf (5, 4 and 3 species respectively)
as mentioned by some worker [10,18,20] (Table 2). All
recoded crinoid species from the Red Sea are Indo-Pa-
cific origin [20,28]. The Red Sea which considered one
part of the Indo-Pacific region [10] is richer in its crin oid
fauna (15 species, represented 10.9% of the total Indo-
Pacific species) than the adjacent waters. For example,
South East Arabia included 6 species (4.3%) [10,20].
Also, references [10,20] recorded 14 species (10.1%)
from East Africa and Madagascar and 6 species (4.3%)
from Arabian Gulf. Most of the recorded species in the
above mentioned areas were found in the Red Sea. In
contrast, the Red Sea considered very poor in its crinoid
fauna if compared with other regions of the Indo-Pacific
area. Reference [10] mentioned that Ceylon included 26
species (18.8%) and North Australia contained 42 spe-
cies (30.4%). Of which only four species were found in
the Red Sea. Whereas crinoid fauna at New Caledonia
represented by 28 species (20.3%) [16]. Such pattern of
distribution and diversity did not agreed with general
opinion as in [20,28,29] that the Red Sea crinoid fauna is
impoverished comparing with the fauna of adjacent wa-
ters and vise versa with other far waters of Indo-Pacific
The degree of endemism in the Red Sea biota is diffi-
cult to evaluate, largely through insufficiency of taxo-
nomic data and possible bias of certain taxonomists in-
volved [20]. The proportion of endemic crinoids appears
high (26.6%) if compared with other groups of echino-
derms. However, in major groups of animals within the
Red Sea as a whole, the proportion of species that are
endemic ranges from 10% - 20% [20]; within smaller
groups the proportion may even reach 50% [29]. The
tendency to produce endemic species appears to be great
in areas like the Red Sea, which are almost completely
enclosed and have environmental conditions differing
from those of t he ne i g hbouring open sea.
Richness in species and high population are two of the
most striking characteristics of the shallow water crinoid
fauna along the coral reef of the northern Red Sea. This
seems to contradict the assumption as in [15] that the
comatulid fauna of coral reefs represents the “upper
fringe” of a more extensive fauna in deeper waters. Of
the northern Red Sea crinoids, 15 species are highly
stenobathic; they inhabit waters above the 25 m isobaths,
and only one species, Heterometra savignii, was col-
lected at depths exceeding 30 m. In contrast, in other
parts of the Indo-Pacific basin, most of the comatulids
are collected in fairly deep water [20]. Perhaps the ben-
thic fauna of the Gulf of Aqaba exhibits a tendency to
“shallowness”. Possibly, the high degree of environ-
mental complexity observ ed in shallow waters of the nor-
thern Red Sea is responsible for the pronounced diversi-
fication of the crinoid fauna. Along the coral reefs, be-
tween 1 to 25 m, 15 crinoid species are found. Refer-
ence [30] mentioned that no benthic community has been
defined yet in terms of its crinoid component. It seems
that in future definitions of bathymetric zones in the
northern Red Sea, the comatulids should be considered as
an important element. These animals participate in the
increase of species diversity, as well as in the consump-
tion of large amounts of planktonic food. In the latter
respect, they can compete with the reef coral population,
on and among which they live and feed.
Shallow-water comatulids exhibit a circadian activity
rhythm which declines with increasing depth and disap-
pears at a depth of 15 to 20 m [31]. Some of the crinoids
found in th e northern part of th e Red Sea are known on ly
from this basin (Comissia hartmeyeri, Decametra chad-
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Table 2. List, distribution and status of crinoid species recorded from the Red Sea (present work) and adjacent areas.
Areas of study
Present work Adjacent areas (other works) [10,18,20]
Suez Canal Gulf of
Suez Gulf of
Aqaba North Red
Sea South Red
Sea Arabian
Gulf South-east
Arabia East Africa
Family: Comasteridae
Comissia hartmeyeri* + + C
Capillaster multiradiatus + + + + C
Family: Colobometridae
Colobometra arabica + + + R
Oligometra serripinna +† + + + + + A
Decametra mollis + +† +† + + R
Decametra chadwicki* +† + + C
Family: Tropiometridae
Tropiometra carinata + + + + + + A
Family: Himerometridae
Heterometra savignii + + + + + + C
Heterometra atra* + + + R
Family: Mariametridae
Lamprometra klunzingeri +† + + + + + + + A
Stephanometra indica + + + + A
Stephanometra spicata + + R
Family: Antedonidae
Antedon parviflora + R
Dorometra parvicirra + R
Dorometra aegyptica* + † + † C
Total number of species 2 9 12 11 10 3 4 5
* = Endemic species to the Red Sea; † = New record; A = Abundant; C = Common; R = Rare.
wicki); others are distributed far out into the S. W. Paci fic
Ocean (Eudiocrinus serripinna, Oligometra serripinna),
or to the W. Indies (Tropiometra carinata). However,
there is no barrier to the identity of Red Sea and Pacific
species [10].
5. Conclusion
This study revealed that 15 crinoid species are known
from the Red Sea belonging to 11 genera under 6 fami-
lies. Among them 4 species are endemic to the Red Sea,
two species from Suez Canal and other two species from
Gulf of Suez, in addition, one species from Gulf of
Aqaba and Northern Red Sea are recorded for the first
6. Acknowledgements
The author would like to thank the EEAA, Egypt and
Manager of GEF Project (Egypt, 1996-1998) for the fa-
cilities and travelling to the Red Sea areas during the
sampling collection used in present study.
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