Skip to main content Skip to main navigation menu Skip to site footer
Published: 2022-11-17

A new species of crown-of-thorns sea star, Acanthaster benziei sp. nov. (Valvatida: Acanthasteridae), from the Red Sea

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Palaeontology and Geobiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany.
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Palaeontology and Geobiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany.
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Palaeontology and Geobiology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany.
GeoBio-Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany. SNSB-Zoological State Collections, Munich, Germany.
Echinodermata Acanthasteridae Acanthaster morphology taxonomy Red Sea coral reefs


A new species of crown-of-thorns sea star (CoTS), Acanthaster benziei sp. nov., is described based on four specimens collected from Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast where it inhabits coral reefs. Species delimitation from congeners in the species complex, i.e., Acanthaster planci, Acanthaster mauritiensis and Acanthaster cf. solaris, is primarily based on distinct and diagnostic mitochondrial DNA sequence regions. Species separation of Acanthaster benziei is additionally justified due to diagnostic morphological characters: fewer arms; narrower and thinner spines; fanned spine tips in primary and latero-oral spines; a wider tip or tapering shape in circumoral spines; and rhombus-shaped oral pedicellariae.



  1. Birkeland, C. & Lucas, J.S. (1990) Acanthaster planci: Major Management Problem of Coral Reefs. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 262 pp.
    de Blainville, H.M. (1830) Zoophytes. In: Levrault, F.G. (Ed.), Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles, dans lequel on traitre méthodiquement des differéns êtres de la nature, considérés soit en eux-mêmes, d’après l’état actuel de nos connoissances, soit relativement a l’utlité qu’en peuvent retirer la médicine, l’agriculture, le commerce et les arts. Tome 60. Le Normat, Paris, pp. 1–546. Available from: (accessed 10 August 2021) [in French]
    Blake, D.B. (1979) The affinities and origins of the crown-of-thorns sea star Acanthaster Gervais. Journal of Natural History, 13 (3), 303–314.
    Campbell, A.C. & Ormond, R.F.G. (1970) The threat of the “crown-of-thorns” starfish (Acanthaster planci) to coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific area: observations on a normal population in the Red Sea. Biological Conservation, 2 (4), 246–251.
    Chesher, R.H. (1969) Destruction of Pacific corals by the sea star Acanthaster planci. Science, 165 (3890), 280–283.
    De’ath, G., Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H. & Puotinen, M. (2012) The 27-year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109 (44), 17995–17999.
    Fabricius, K. (2013) Acanthaster planci. In: Lawrence, J.M. (Ed.), Starfish: Biology and Ecology of the Asteroidea. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, pp. 132–141.
    Gale, A.S. (2011) The phylogeny of post-Palaeozoic Asteroidea (Echinodermata, Neoasteroidea). Special Papers in Palaeontology, 85, 1–112. ISBN 978144435029-6
    Gervais, P. (1841) Astérie. In: Plusieurs professeurs du Jardin du Roi 1840–1841 (Eds.), Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles dans lequel on traite méthodiquement des différents êtres de la nature, considérés soit en eux mêmes, d’après l'état actuel de nos connoissances, soit relativement à l’utilité qu'en peuvent retirer la médecine, l’agriculture, le commerce et les artes. Suivi d'une biographie des plus célèbres naturalistes. Supplément, Tome I. Ch. Pitoit, Paris, pp. 461–481. Available from: (accessed 14 March 2022) [in French]
    Haszprunar, G. & Spies, M. (2014) An integrative approach to the taxonomy of the crown-of-thorns starfish species group (Asteroidea: Acanthaster): a review of names and comparison to recent molecular data. Zootaxa, 3841 (2), 271–284.
    Haszprunar, G., Vogler, C. & Wörheide, G. (2017) Persistent gaps of knowledge for naming and distinguishing multiple species of crown-of-thorns-seastar in the Acanthaster planci species complex. Diversity, 9 (2), 22.
    Jangoux, M. & Lambert, A. (1988) Comparative anatomy and classification of asteroid pedicellariae. In: Burke, R.D., Mladenov, P.V., Lambert, P. & Parsley, R.L. (Eds.), Echinoderm Biology. Balkema, Rotterdam, pp. 719–723
    Kimball, S., Mattis, P. & the GIMP Team of Developers (2018) GNU Image Manipulation Program. Available from: (accessed 26 October 2022)
    Linnaeus, C. (1767) Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Pars 2. Editio duodecima, reformata. Laurentii Salvii, Holmiæ [Stockholm], pp. 533–1327 + [36]. Available from: (accessed 14 March 2022) [in Latin]
    de Loriol, P. (1885) Catalogue raisonné des Échinodermes recueillis par M.V. de Robillard à l’île Maurice. Memoires de la société de physique et d’histoire naturelle de Genève, 29 (1re Partie), No 4, 84 pp., pls. VII–XXII. [in French] (accessed 24 October 2022)
    Madsen, F.J. (1955) A note on the sea star genus Acanthaster. Videnskabelige Meddelelser fra Dansk naturhistorisk Forening i Kjøbenhavn, 117, 179–192.
    Motokawa, T. (1986) Morphology of spines and spine joint in the crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci (Echinodermata, Asteroida). Zoomorphology, 106 (4), 247–253.
    Nguyen, L.-T., Schmidt, H.A., von Haeseler, A. & Minh, B.Q. (2015) IQ-TREE: A fast and effective stochastic algorithm for estimating maximum likelihood phylogenies. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 32, 268–274.
    Perrier, E. (1884) Mémoire sur les étoiles de mer recueilliés dans la mer des Antilles et le golfe du Mexique: durant les expéditions de dragace faites sous la direction de M. Alexandre Agassiz. Archives de la Muséum Histoire Naturelle, Paris, Series 2, Tome 6 (2), 127–276, pls. 1–10. Available from: (accessed 10 August 2021) [in French]
    Plancus, J. & Gualtieri, N. (1743) De stella marina echinata quindecim radiis instructa epistolae binæ quarum altera ad Carolum Antonium Iulianum a Iano Planco, altera vero ad ipsum Plancum a Nicolao Gualtiero, conscriptæ [Two letters on a spiny starfish equipped with fifteen arms, one written to Carolus Antonius Julianus by Janus Plancus, the other to that same Plancus by Nicolaus Gualtierus]. s.n., Florence, 12 pp. Available from: (accessed 14 March 2022) [in Latin]
    Pratchett, M.S., Caballes, C.F., Rivera-Posada, J.A. & Sweatman, H.P.A. (2014) Limits to understanding and managing outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.). Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review, 52, 133–200.
    Rumphius [Rumph], G.E. (1705) D’Amboinsche Rariteitkamer. Halma, Amsterdam, 539 pp. Available from: (accessed 14 March 2022) [in Dutch]
    Schreber, J.C.D. von (1793) Beschreibung der Seesonne, einer Art Seesterne, mit 21 Strahlen. Der Naturforscher (Halle a. d. Saale), 27, 1–6, pls. I–II. Available from: (accessed 14 March 2022) [in German]
    Sladen, W.P. (1889) Report on the Asteroidea (starfish) collected by H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873–1876. Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger 1873–76, Zoology, 30, 1–6 + i–xlii + 1–893. Available from: (accessed 14 March 2022) [llustrations for this work were issued separately in Zoology, XXX (30), plates.]
    Trapon, M.L., Pratchett, M.S. & Penin, L. (2011) Comparative effects of different disturbances in coral reef habitats in Moorea, French Polynesia. Journal of Marine Biology, 2011, 807625, 1–11.
    Vogler, C., Benzie, J., Barber, P.H., Erdmann, M. V., Ambariyanto, Sheppard, C., Tenggardjaja, K., Gérard, K. & Wörheide, G. (2012) Phylogeography of the crown-of-thorns starfish in the Indian Ocean. PLoS ONE, 7, e43499.
    Vogler, C., Benzie, J., Lessios, H., Barber, P. & Wörheide, G. (2008) A threat to coral reefs multiplied? Four species of crown-of-thorns starfish. Biology Letters, 4 (6), 696–699.
    Vogler, C., Benzie, J.A.H., Tenggardjaja, K., Ambariyanto, Barber, P.H. & Wörheide, G. (2013) Phylogeography of the crown-of-thorns starfish: genetic structure within the Pacific species. Coral Reefs, 32 (2), 515–525.
    Walbran, P. (1987) An atlas of the skeletal components of the crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci (L)). Technical Memorandum GBRMPA-TM-11, 1–45 (including 13 plates). Available from: (accessed 13 March 2022)
    Yuasa, H., Kajitani, R., Nakamura, Y., Takahashi, K., Okuno, M., Kobayashi, F., Shinoda, T., Toyoda, A., Suzuki, Y., Thongtham, N., Forsman, Z., Bronstein, O., Seveso, D., Montalbetti, E., Taquet, C., Eyal, G., Yasuda, N. & Itoh, T. (2021) Elucidation of the speciation history of three sister species of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster spp.) based on genomic analysis. DNA Research, 28 (4), dsab012.