The ocean depths are filled with all manner of strange creatures from bird-like squid to prehistoric sharks. The latest marine oddity to do the rounds on social media has many people scratching their heads. Is it an exploded can of spray cheese? A clump of living spaghetti? A tentacled alien?


The footage was uploaded to Facebook last month by Sarah Vasser-Alford where it quickly went viral generating over a million views to date. According to reports, the creature was caught accidentally while Vasser-Alford and a group of her family and friends were fishing for halibut off the coast of Prince of Wales Island in Alaska. It was released back into the ocean shortly after the video was filmed. Many online commenters were more than a little unsettled by the animal's twisting arms, calling the creature an alien and describing it as "something out of Stranger Things".

So what the heck is it? We checked in with starfish-expert Dr Christopher Mah to help identify the gnarly creature. "This is an animal well-known to marine biologists. [It's] called a basket star, which is a type of brittle star or Ophiuroid," Mah explained to us via email. Distantly related to sea stars, these odd-looking animals are found in deep-sea, cold-water habitats across the world. The orange species that recently set the internet alight is more than likely Gorgonocephalus eucnemis (although telling sea basket species apart from one another can be a tricky task).                                           

Basket stars are filter feeders. Their twirly appendages are covered with spines and hooks which are useful for latching onto prey such as krill or small crustaceans (that's right, this twisty sea tree is actually a predator!). Basket stars usually position themselves on perches like soft coral, sponges, rocks or sometimes on the ocean floor where they'll extend their coiled arms to form a kind of feeding basket to trap their prey, Mah explains on The Echinoblog. Once they've snagged something, it will be worked down towards the mouth, a slightly terrifying star-shaped opening that Mah likens to the Sarlacc Pit from Return of the Jedi.

Here's a basket star in action:

Top header image: Alexander Vasenin/Flickr