Photographer: Alvaro Migotto Source:nikoninstruments.com used with permission
Ophiothela mirabilis is a six-armed brittle star that typically occurs in the Indo-Pacific and lives only in marine environments. Overall Ophiothela mirabilis is rather small and can range from yellow to bright orange.
Ophiothela mirabilis is already associated with at least 20 Atlantic host species which would allow it colonize new territory quickly. Further expansion of the range of Ophiothela could alter the appearance and the ecology of Atlantic coral reef habitats; because Ophiothelads, in multitudes, heavily colonize gorgonians and sponges on Indo-West central Pacific and on tropical eastern Pacific reefs. Unfortunately, too little is known of the species’ biology to predict its potential impact on Atlantic reef communities; however, with no natural predators in the Atlantic their presence is probably not a positive one.
It clings in multitudes to corals and sponges and reproduces asexually, by splitting in two and regenerating severed body structures. The ability of one star to "clone" vast numbers of identical twins enormously increases the species capacity to proliferate and disperse.
This brittle star was first discovered off the Pacific coast of Panama in 1867. In 2000 it was first seen off of the coast of Brazil and by 2011 it has been repeatedly sighted near St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles. The ability of this brittle star to spread over 5,000 miles would suggest it is being help transported by shipping; which means it could soon be affecting the coral reefs around Puerto Rico and even up towards the Florida Keys.
Indo-Pacific and Pacific coast of Central America
U.S. Habitat: Tropical, sub-tropical and temperate marine environments
U.S. Present: Not yet here, but could reach PR and FL very soon
Since very little is known about this brittle star, very little can be done to manage it. However, it seems tourist/people scuba diving and posting their pictures and locations online, have at least helped establish the distribution range of this brittle star in the Atlantic.
Alvarado, J. J., Solís-Marín, F. A., & Ahearn, C. G. 2010. Echinoderm (Echinodermata) diversity in the Pacific coast of Central America. Marine Biodiversity, 40(1):45-56.
Hendler, G., Migotto, A. E., Ventura, C. R., & Wilk, L. Epizoic Ophiothela brittle stars have invaded the Atlantic. Coral Reefs, 1-1.