Our featured fish this month is actually not a fish at all. The pincushion sea urchin, found in our reef tank, is an echinoderm and belongs to the family of animals that include sea cucumbers and starfish. This little animal may not look like much but I think it is one of the most fascinating creatures we have here in the Children’s Services aquariums.
The spines that cover a sea urchin’s body serve as both protection and allow it to move around the tank. It also has retractable feet that help it move and climb. Sea urchins spend their lives upside down since their mouths are located on the bottom of their bodies. The mouth is a complex system with 5 teeth plates that allow a sea urchin to scrape algae off of rocks and coral. It even has a special name: Aristotle’s Lantern.
There is a lot to find interesting about these strange little animals, but my absolute favorite thing about our little sea urchin is how much it loves to decorate. A master of camouflage, our sea urchin is constantly picking up shells and rocks from around the tank and carrying them on its back. It is surprisingly strong and you can often find it carrying much larger objects than you would expect. Be sure to check out what our sea urchin is wearing the next time you visit Children’s Services!
I don’t know of any picture books that feature sea urchins in particular but Wow! Ocean by Robert Neubecker has vibrant illustrations that provide a fun snapshot of the different creatures found in the ocean. (You can look for several different sea urchins and other echinoderms on the “Wow! Tide pool!” pages.)