The trend of naming new species after pop culture icons is on the rise, and we’re giving the latest addition to the list of nerdy namesakes our stamp of approval. A brittle star, found deep in the South Pacific, has been officially dubbed Ophiohamus georgemartini because of its likeness to the thorny crown found on the cover of book two in the Game of Thrones series, A Clash of Kings.
This edition of the Clash of Kings cover was run by Bantam Mass Market in 2012. Dr. Tim O’Hara, Thrones fan and one of the world’s leading authorities on ophiuroids (brittle and basket stars), couldn’t get it out of his head when deciding on a permanent moniker for the new discovery. Chances are you’ve seen a basket star—remember that “alien” that went viral after it was caught off the coast of Singapore?—but brittle stars like this one rarely enter the spotlight.
Unlike true starfish (class Asteroidea), who “hover” slowly along the seabed on hundreds of tube feet, brittle stars move quite rapidly, wriggling their long, flexible arms to get from A to B. Also known as “snake stars,” the body and arms of these animals are protected by hard, calcium carbonate armor like you see in the image below, which we found, along with the study, on Echinoblog.
Ophiohamus georgemartini seen clinging to a deep sea glass sponge. Source: O’Hara, et al.
The George R.R. Martin-friendly specimen was found off the coast of New Caledonia, at a depth of 275 meters (902 ft), but you can find brittle stars in shallow waters as well, and even in rocky tide pools. “Brittle stars live everywhere,” explains the Echinoblog’s Dr. Christopher Mah. “Under rocks, in the mud, on corals, under corals … even on jellyfish. Many of them are tiny, tiny little critters that fit easily into cracks, crevices and nooks in rocks.”
There are over 2,000 species of brittle star, but having a big posse isn’t enough for these marine creepy crawlies; they are also some of the most abundant echinoderms (the umbrella term for starfish and their relatives) in the ocean. From time to time, brittle stars gather en masse, blanketing the seafloor in a “carpet” that looks more like it’s made of worms than anything else.
By sticking their spiny arms into the current, the stars can filter out any tasty organic particles that flow past.
Ever encountered a brittle star? Let us know in the comments below! You can check out more awesome star-shaped discoveries in Memoirs of the Museum Victoria, and watch our latest video on the majesty that is Game of Thrones below.