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How Do I Care for a Chocolate Chip Star Fish?

Chocolate Chip Star FishSea stars, commonly known as starfish, are among the most sought after marine aquarium animals. It seems no tank is complete without one.  However, they aren’t the easiest of animals to keep alive and healthy.  The chocolate chip starfish is the one species you are likely to have success with, but there are some things you should know about it first. Below we will talk about what to look for when buying one, how to acclimate it, and how to take care of and feed it.

How do I know if the chocolate chip starfish is healthy?

Because they are popular, chocolate chip starfish are readily available, even at your “lesser” pet stores like PETCO. Not all pet stores are equal in how they care for their animals. The first starfish I ever purchased was from the above mentioned PETCO. They had not acclimated the group of sea stars correctly and so they were showing signs of disintegration.  That’s what happens to your starfish, they begin to dissolve, starting at the arm tips, and eventually getting to the body, killing it.  Because, at the time, I was not aware of the signs, I made the purchase.

You don’t have to make the same mistake, because you will know what to look for.

  • Ask how long they have had the starfish in stock.  If they have had them for a few days, that’s all the better.  Newer arrivals may not have had time to show signs of shock.
  • Look for any wounds on the animal.  Don’t be afraid to ask the employee to lift it up, turn it over, and give you ample time to visually examine the specimen.
  • Are there any signs of disintegration? If there are, don’t buy the animal.  You will also need to make a judgment if this represents a flaw in one animal, or if the entire group was poorly acclimated.  Because chocolate chip starfish are common, you may consider leaving and going to a different shop.
  • Choose a medium sized sea star.  Larger ones are older, and smaller ones may not be well enough established.  By getting on in the middle you know that it has survived for a longer period of time, but not so long that its life in your tank will be short due to old age.

How do I acclimate a chocolate chip starfish?

As with all invertebrates (like shrimp, and urchins) sea stars should be carefully acclimated using the drip method for about 2.5 hours. Do not rush the acclimation period.  We know you are excited to get your new animal in the tank, but rushing acclimation is likely to lead to an early death.  Know before you buy the starfish that you will need a couple of hours when you get home to properly introduce the animal into your tank. If you don’t have time right then, wait until you do to buy it. Because you will be enjoying our purchase for a long time to come, you will be glad you waited. Also, do not expose your chocolate chip starfish to air. This is for the same reason you should not expose sponges to air.  The chocolate chip starfish has hundreds of pores, if air gets in them, it can’t always be expelled, thus destroying the functionality of the pore.

What do chocolate chip starfish eat?

Chocolate chip starfish are scavengers, eating foods that have dropped to the bottom of the tank, but they are also predators and will eat corals, as well as killing and eating many small animals, even snails. You can feed your chocolate chip star fish meaty foods such as muscles, shrimp, and squid.  There are a couple of ways to do this.

  1. Place the food in the sea star’s path and wait for it to crawl over it.  This really isn’t the best method because generally speaking it can’t always find it, or some other tank dweller eats it first.
  2. Pick the sea star up and put it on top of the food.  This works pretty good, just be sure not to damage the animal when you handle it.
  3. Most likely your chocolate chip star fish will come to the surface of the tank, and bend backward with a couple of arms on the surface of the water like in the video above.  Place the piece of food on top of it gently and it will move it with tube feet to its mouth.  This method is the one that has worked best for me.

Is a chocolate chip starfish reef-safe?

No. They eat corals, especially soft corals like zoanthus and corallimorphs (mushrooms). I’ve had some luck keeping them with anemone, xenia, and toadstool leather corals but had one eat two bright green mushrooms that I would rather kept alive.

What are good tank mates for a chocolate chip starfish?

Puffers are generally a bad choice.  You will notice in the video above that I have a valentini puffer housed with a chocolate chip starfish.  This smaller puffer never bothers the sea star, but you can’t always count on that with larger puffer species. Large hermit crabs are also not a good idea.  These aren’t the small crabs, but the large species like Dardanus megistos, the shell-breaking hermit crab.

Other than the above mentioned, most fish and shrimp will be fine. Discussing tank mates can be tricky because animals aren’t all the same.  I kept a green spotted puffer in a community tank for years, and it never bothered the other fish, but in most cases, they attack and eat other fish.  Be observant and ask questions of the local shop worker.


Because they are affordable, the chocolate chip starfish is a common beginner sea star. It is a relatively hardy species that is easy to keep and feed in your non-reef tank. Take the proper amount of time to drip acclimate your new purchase and you should be enjoying it for long time to come.