Basket stars (Astrocladus euryale) are an intricately beautiful type of brittle star, mostly seen on sea fans and sometimes clinging to rocky outcrops. Basket stars and brittle stars are closely related to starfish and have a similar shape with a central disc and arms extending from it. Basket stars have 10 arms with numerous tiny tendrils extending from them. The central disc is decorated with coarse knobs.
Basket stars anchor themselves using their central disc and do this as high up on the reef as possible. Typically this means that you will find them attached to sea fans or tall corals, but when these are not available they will find an elevated position on rocky outcrops. They feed by holding up their ten arms and catch prey passing by with their tendrils. These tendrils can lock together to form a basket-like trap. When they are done feeding, basket stars retract their arms and wrap them around their central disc for protection.
They grow very large for a brittle star, reaching half a metre across their entire length. Basket stars are only found between Algoa Bay and the Cape Peninsula and are sometimes referred to as Gorgon’s head. They are found as deep as 90m. Basket stars prefer deep reefs so the chances of seeing one while snorkeling in Cape Town are very low, but you could see one at the deeper freediving sites between Hout Bay and Oudekraal or off Glencairn.