The Edge of the Sea tidepool touch tank is a particularly engaging exhibit for all ages. Visitors have the chance to roll up their sleeves and (gently) touch a wide variety of local ocean animals, such as horseshoe and hermit crabs, scallops, sea stars, urchins, and anemones. Educators are on hand to answer questions and help instruct visitors on the safest way to interact with these animals. And aquarists are always nearby making sure the animals are healthy and well fed.

girl leans over tidepool to touch sea star

Part of caring for the animals in the touch tank is making sure everyone is getting enough to eat. Recently, aquarists were concerned that some of the other residents of the exhibit were eating up all the food before the slow-moving sea stars could get their fill, so they’ve been tinkering with some new ways to deliver food to these invertebrates.

Enter: The clam jars!

sea stars and urchin cling to jar
Sea stars and urchins dining on their slow food.

Sea stars’ mouths are located on their bellies. Many species are able to start digesting their food before it goes into their bodies by everting their stomachs. That means they push their stomachs out of their bodies and start breaking the food down before pulling everything back in through their mouths. The aquarists created unique feeding tools for these animals by cutting slits in the sides of small plastic jars with screw-top. They fill the jars with clam and set them in quiet sections of the exhibit. The sea stars (and urchins, in this case) migrate over to the jars and pig out. 

educator looking at jar with clams and sea stars
Educator Amanda Wood answers questions about the sea star snack.

Right now, this feeding method is still in the testing phase, but so far it seems to be working. The sea stars are definitely attracted to the snack jars and get the food out over time. It takes them a couple days to consume all the clam bits.

So if you’re visiting, stop by the Edge of the Sea tidepool touch tank and look for the sea stars and their clam jars. Wow your friends with your new insiders knowledge about how aquarists are providing food for these slow-moving snackers!