Invasion History

First Non-native North American Tidal Record: 2002
First Non-native West Coast Tidal Record:
First Non-native East/Gulf Coast Tidal Record: 2002

General Invasion History:

Ophiactis savignyi is considered the world's most common and widely distributed brittle star. It was first described from the Red Sea in 1842, and later found to be widely distributed in the tropical and sub-tropical Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. It inhabits marine fouling communities, especially sponges, and has been frequently found on ship hulls, buoys, and marine structures. It has a long-lived planktonic larva, with the potential for ballast water transport (Roy and Sponer 2002). In addition to sexual reproduction, it also reproduces asexually by fission, which is an advantage in colonizing new locations where the possibility of fertilization is low (McGovern 2003). Roy and Sponer (2002) found that most of the Atlantic specimens that they examined, including many from the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic, could be divided into two lineages, A and B. Atlantic specimens of lineage B (from Florida, Bermuda, and the Caribbean coast of Panama) were identical to their Indo-Pacific counterparts (from Philippines, Sri Lanka, Rarotonga, and Samoa), and strongly distinct from lineage A. They considered the possibility of natural invasion around Africa, from the Indian Ocean, but concluded that dispersal by currents was not likely, because this species would not survive the cold waters of the Benguela current. The degree of genetic similarity over a very wide range supported a recent, anthropogenic invasion for lineage B. Lineage A, found from Bermuda and Florida to Brazil, was not found in the Indo-Pacific samples tested, but its occurrence there could not be excluded (Roy and Sponer 2002) so it should be regarded as cryptogenic in the Atlantic. Clark (1919), cited by Roy and Sponer (2002), suggested that O. savignyi was introduced to the Atlantic before the mid-19th century.

We have treated O. savignyi as native to the Indo-Pacific, where it ranges from Japan to the Red Sea, South Africa, and French Polynesia. Further west in the Pacific, where we consider it cryptogenic, O. savignyi ranges from California to Peru, and also occurs in Hawaii, the Galapagos, and Easter Island. It was first collected in the Eastern Pacific in 1854 at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (United States National Museum of Natural History 2008).

North American Invasion History:

Invasion History on the East Coast:

Ophiactis savignyi was collected in the Western Atlantic at least as early as 1875 in Brazil, 1882 in Bermuda, and 1884 on the East and Gulf Coasts of North America. In RV 'Albatross' cruises in 1884-1885, it was collected from off Cape Lookout, North Carolina; and the Dry Tortugas, Goodland Point, and Sarasota, Florida (US National Museum of Natural History 2011). Roy and Sponer (2002) found two lineages in the Western Atlantic, one (Lineage A) unique to the region and one (Lineage B) found in Florida, Bermuda, and the Caribbean coast of Panama which apparently represents a cryptic introduction from the Indo-Pacific. Roy and Sponer (2002) did not give specific locations for samples, so we have considered all locations with US National Museum specimens on the Florida Peninsula from Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Coast and Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast, southward to the Florida Keys to contain the introduced lineage B, and other Atlantic sites with O. savignyi collections, to be cryptogenic.

Invasion History Elsewhere in the World:

Ophiactis savignyi is considered a recent invader in the Mediterranean, which it apparently colonized through the Suez Canal, reaching Israel by 1948 (Galil 2007). In the Mediterranean, it is known from the Aegean Sea (in 1994, Pancucci-Papadopoulou et al. 2005), and the Gulf of Gabes, Tunisia (in 1973, United States Museum of Natural History 2008). One specimen was found in Banyuls-sur-Mer, France (in 1968, Guile 1968). It also occurs in the East Atlantic on Madeira (Jesus and Domingos 1998) and Senegal (United States National Museum of Natural History 2011).


Ophiactis savignyi has a disk diameter of 2.5 - 5 mm, usually with six arms 13-20 mm in length. This brittle star reproduces by fission, and can regenerate lost arms, so numbers of arms can vary from 1-7. Small spines are scattered over the disk surface. On the ventral side of the disk, three scale-like oral papillae are present around the mouth, and the oral shields are large. On the dorsal side of the disk, the radial shields are large. The aboral arm plates are elliptical with rounded lateral margins, and a convex distal edge with a median lobe made prominent by a dark spot on either side. There are 5-6 arm spines on each arm segment. Body color ranges from brown to brown-green and cream. The radial shields are darker than the rest of the disk and generally have a patch of white along the outer tip. The arms are banded due to the dark markings on distal portions of the arm plates (Smithsonian Marine Station 2011; Stöhr 2011).


Taxonomic Tree

Kingdom:   Animalia
Phylum:   Echinodermata
Class:   Stelleroidea
Subclass:   Ophiuroidea
Order:   Ophiurida
Suborder:   Gnathophiurina
Family:   Ophiactidae
Genus:   Ophiactis
Species:   savignyi Lineage B


Ophiactis brocki (Deloriol, 1893)
Ophiactis incisa (Von Martens, 1870)
Ophiactis krebsi (Luetken, 1856)
Ophiactis rheinhardtii (Luetken, 1859)
Ophiactis sexradia (Grube, 1857)
Ophiactis virescens (Luetken, 1856)
Ophiolepis savignyi (Müller and Troschel, 1842)

Potentially Misidentified Species



Ophiactis savignyi is a brittle star which reproduces sexually, broadcasting eggs and sperm, but it can also reproduce asexually by fission. Animals inhabiting sponges tend to be of one sex, dominated by immature animals, and appear to be dependent on asexual reproduction. There appears to be a trade-off between sexual and asexual reproduction, with asexual reproduction being more likely in populations with a lower probability of fertilization. Males are more likely to divide than females, which are more likely to lose their gonads after fission, resulting in a skewed sex ratio (McGovern 2002; McGovern 2003). Ophiactis savignyi can be found in a variety of habitats including rocky shores and seaweed beds, the interior of sponges, mangroves, corals, docks, and boat hulls (Roy and Sponer 2002; McGovern 2003).


detritus, foraminfera, benthic invertebrates

Trophic Status:

Deposit Feeder



General HabitatCoral reefNone
General HabitatGrass BedNone
General HabitatMarinas & DocksNone
General HabitatVessel HullNone
General HabitatRockyNone
General HabitatUnstructured BottomNone
Salinity RangePolyhaline18-30 PSU
Salinity RangeEuhaline30-40 PSU
Tidal RangeSubtidalNone
Vertical HabitatEpibenthicNone

Tolerances and Life History Parameters

Maximum Duration30Larval duration, approximate, Roy and Sponer 2002
Minimum Length (mm)28.5Adult radius (disk + arms)
Maximum Length (mm)45Adult radius (disk + arms)
Broad Temperature RangeNoneWarm temperate-Tropical
Broad Salinity RangeNonePolyhaline-Euhaline

General Impacts

No direct impacts have been reported for this species, but they could be substantial, given the high abundance of this brittle star in some locations.

Regional Distribution Map

Bioregion Region Name Year Invasion Status Population Status
SP-XXI None 1902 Crypto Estab
CIO-II None 0 Native Estab
SP-IX None 0 Native Estab
SP-VIII None 0 Native Estab
CAR-III None 2002 Def Estab
CAR-IV None 2002 Def Estab
CAR-I Northern Yucatan, Gulf of Mexico, Florida Straits, to Middle Eastern Florida 2002 Def Estab
NA-ET4 Bermuda 2002 Def Estab
MED-VI None 1994 Def Estab
G040 Rookery Bay 2002 Def Estab
S206 _CDA_S206 (Vero Beach) 2002 Def Estab
G060 Sarasota Bay 2002 Def Estab
G080 Suwannee River 2002 Def Estab
S190 Indian River 2002 Def Estab
G010 Florida Bay 2002 Def Estab
S200 Biscayne Bay 2002 Def Estab
S196 _CDA_S196 (Cape Canaveral) 2002 Def Estab
G050 Charlotte Harbor 2002 Def Estab
EAS-VI None 0 Native Estab
SP-XIII None 0 Native Estab
WA-V None 1952 Crypto Estab
EAS-III None 0 Native Estab
SP-XII None 0 Native Estab
SEP-H None 1904 Crypto Estab
SA-III None 1875 Crypto Estab
MED-V None 1937 Def Estab
SP-XI None 0 Native Estab
SP-XIV None 0 Native Estab
NEP-VIII None 1854 Crypto Estab
SP-XVI None 1850 Native Estab
SEP-Z None 1938 Crypto Estab
NEP-VII None 1889 Crypto Estab
AG-5 None 0 Native Estab
CAR-V None 1903 Crypto Estab
CAR-II None 1914 Crypto Estab
CAR-VII Cape Hatteras to Mid-East Florida 1885 Crypto Estab
G210 Terrebonne/Timbalier Bays 1987 Crypto Estab
SA-II None 1965 Crypto Estab
SA-IV None 1975 Crypto Estab
G330 Lower Laguna Madre 1960 Crypto Estab
G070 Tampa Bay 2002 Def Estab
AUS-XII None 0 Native Estab
SP-IV None 0 Native Estab
SP-I None 0 Native Estab
MED-IV None 1973 Def Estab
SEP-C None 1935 Crypto Estab
CAR-VI None 1957 Crypto Estab
AG-3 None 0 Native Estab
EA-V None 0 Native Estab
WA-I None 1971 Crypto Estab
NWP-3a None 0 Native Estab
SP-XX None 0 Crypto Estab
NEP-VI Pt. Conception to Southern Baja California 1888 Crypto Estab
CIO-IV None 0 Native Estab
CIO-V None 0 Native Estab
EA-IV None 0 Native Estab
CIO-I None 0 Native Estab
EA-III None 0 Native Estab
OM None 0 Native Estab
SP-III None 0 Native Estab
NWP-2 None 0 Native Estab
SP-VII None 0 Native Estab
SEP-I None 0 Crypto Estab
EAS-I None 0 Native Estab
NWP-4a None 0 Native Estab
MED-II None 1968 Def Unk
AUS-II None 0 Native Estab
P058 _CDA_P058 (San Pedro Channel Islands) 0 Crypto Estab
RS-3 None 1842 Native Estab
S020 Pamlico Sound 1885 Crypto Estab
G100 Apalachicola Bay 0 Crypto Estab
WA-II None 1914 Crypto Estab
PAN_PAC Panama Pacific Coast 1904 Crypto Estab
PAN_CAR Panama Caribbean Coast 2002 Def Estab
MED-IV None 1993 Def Estab

Occurrence Map

OCC_ID Author Year Date Locality Status Latitude Longitude
6032 USNM 33896 1886 1885-02-07 None Crypto 29.1917 -85.4833


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