Starfish Care Guide for Pet Owners


Starfish by LittleThought – Pixabay –

Starfish Care Guide

Saltwater invertebrates known as starfish, or sea stars, come in an assortment of sizes, textures and colors. All starfish resemble a star, hence their name. Despite their name, they are not a type of fish. Instead, they belong to the Phylum group called Echinoderms, close relatives of sea urchins and sand dollars. 

Since thousands of species live all over the world, living conditions vary. Some sea stars are predatory, making them unsafe for other stationary or slow-moving creatures. Others prefer to eat algae and coexist peacefully among other tank animals. Conduct thorough, responsible research to guide you in the process of choosing a starfish and determining its habitat. In addition to feeding and handling your starfish, maintaining balance in your aquarium’s ecosystem is the key to successfully caring for your starfish. The basics of this starfish care guide will have you on the correct path to successfully caring for your invertebrate.

Things You Will Need:

  • Aquarium
  • Sea Salt Mix
  • Live Rocks
  • Reverse Osmosis/Deionized (RO/DI) Water
  • Hydrometer or Refractometer
  • Thermometer
  • Water Test Kits
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Tongs
  • Complete Water Testing Kits
  • Small Airline Hose
  • Small Container
  • Tank Heater

Setting Up Your Aquarium

Habitat and water quality are the main concerns when keeping a starfish. Starfish are sensitive to small changes. They thrive best in a spacious reef aquarium. A larger tank allows the starfish to roam around. Tank size requirements vary according to the starfish species. Follow these steps when preparing your aquarium for the first time.

Set up the aquarium according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure everything is working properly. Also, it is an excellent idea to fill it up with water first to check for leaks. Mix the sea salt with the reverse-osmosis/deionized water to the gravity of about 1.025. Fill the aquarium with it. Set the tank heater between 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Never use tap water, which may run through copper lines. Copper is deadly to starfish.

Fill the aquarium with the reef sand. Add the live rock and allow the tank to cycle for at least one month, completing the remaining steps at weekly intervals until optimal levels have been achieved.


Test for the Following:

Test the salinity level of the tank. This can be done using a properly calibrated hydrometer or a refractometer. The salinity level should fall between 1.022 and 1.025.

Test the pH of the aquarium. The pH level indicates whether the water is more acidic or more base. Keep the pH level between 8.0 to 8.3. 

Test for ammonia, NH3. High levels of ammonia are extremely toxic to the animals in your reef tank. Waste, consisting of excess food, dead fish, and feces, attribute to the ammonia levels in your tank. Keep these levels at 0 ppt. Starfish will begin to die if the ammonia levels suddenly spike.

Test for nitrites, NO2. Aim for 0 ppt. Nitrites are deadly to animals in the tank, causing die-offs, if present.

Finally, test for nitrates, NO3. Do this on a daily basis once you have reached 0 ppt for ammonia and nitrites. Aim for as close to 0 ppt as possible. 

Another important thing to remember when it comes to starfish care: Place a thermometer into the water to regularly monitor the water temperature. Choose from a floating thermometer, one that sticks to the inside of the tank, or a thermal sticker. Maintain a temperature of 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the species.

Handling a Starfish

Before placing your starfish into the water, remember to put on rubber gloves. Never handle a starfish with your bare hands. Some species of sea stars produce a toxin that varies between mild to deadly. Additionally, it can be harmful to them. It is always best to play it safe and wear gloves. For starfish that are smoother in texture, you can pick them up with your gloved hands. For spiky starfish, wear gloves, and use tongs to gently move them.

Acclimate them to the water by using the drip method. The drip method is the best way to safely acclimate your starfish. Begin by placing the small container next to your tank.

Place the bag in the tank for 20 minutes to allow it to adjust to the temperature of the tank. If necessary, after transferring to the container, use a tank heater to maintain the tank’s temperature. Open the bag. Carefully transfer the water and starfish from the bag into the container.

Take the airline hose and tie a few knots into it. Place one end into the tank to begin a siphon drip. Place the other end into the container. Allow it to drip at a rate of one to two drops per second into the container over a period of at least four hours. Some starfish are more sensitive than others. Make sure to carefully research your species.

Acclimate with the drip method over the course of at least four hours up to a full day. Starfish can dissolve if exposed to immense salinity fluctuations. After the allotted time passes, transfer the starfish into the tank by picking it up with a gloved hand or a pair of tongs. Never pour the water from the container into your reef aquarium. 

Do not worry if your starfish is in the air for a few seconds. It is a misconception that starfish will die if exposed to the air for a second or two when transferring it to the tank. Briefly exposing the starfish to the air will not harm it as it is more likely to die due to mishandling during transport before arriving.

Feeding Your Starfish

The diet of your starfish varies between species. While some prefer algae, others feed solely on meat, and many are omnivores. Remember to feed your starfish every two to three days or whenever it will take food. Often, starfish slowly die of starvation because their feedings are not frequent enough. Sometimes, you may need to place the food on the bottom of the tank, and then put the starfish on top of it. This prevents fish from eating it before the starfish moves onto the food.

General Starfish Care Concerns

Starfish care requires dedication. Keep the tank clean by tending to it on a weekly basis. Regularly examine your starfish for discolorations, disfigurements and inactivity. If anything seems out of the ordinary, test the water quality of your tank. Often, the tank’s water quality places the starfish under unnecessary distress. For a healthy starfish, maintain a clean tank and feed it regularly.

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