Door #2: The head of the Medusa


Medusa by Carvaggio (Wikimedia)

Today we go mythological, and visit the Greek pantheon.

Medusa was one of three Gorgon sisters who all had snakes for hair according to the mythology – and one can certainly understand how the British zoologist Leach (1791-1836) came to think of the name when he formally described the genus Gorgonocephalus (Literally ” Gorgon’s head”) in 1815. They are found within the echinoderm class of Ophiuroidea (brittle stars).

In English they are known as basket stars, whilst Norwegians know them as “Medusahode” – head of the Medusa.

The English name refers to how they feed: basket stars are predators, and raise their bifurcated arms covered with tiny hooks, spines and grooves up into the current forming a basket to sift and entrap plankton and other small critters from the water as it streams past – then they use their arm branches (possibly aided by the tube feet) to guide the trapped food to their mouths, which is on the underside (like in starfish).

Gorgonocephalus lamarcki, photo by K.Kongshavn

Gorgonocephalus lamarcki, photo by K.Kongshavn


This specimen was collected in Svalbard in 2009 (way up at 80ºN) during a student course at UNIS, and has been barcoded through the Norwegian Barcode of Life (NorBOL) project.


Hover your cursor over the image below to see a basket star move