Long-spined Sea Urchin

These specimens of Long-spined Sea Urchin, Diadema savignyi, were collected during an Australian Museum expedition to Swain Reefs, Queensland.

Long-spined Sea Urchin

S Humphreys © Australian Museum

The expedition journal records details of their rather unusual acquisition, demonstrating the unexpected events which can happen during fieldwork:

'Sunday October 14th, 1962. A long spined urchin Diadema was observed with a flock of little reddish-brown fishes living among the spines. Some of these were collected by throwing the urchin into the air, leaving the fish behind - these being caught in a plastic bag. The remaining fishes, being bereft of their host, looked around for a dark place to hide and quickly swarmed towards Len's dark swim shorts, disappearing up the legs.'

From the unpublished journal of the Australian Museum Expedition to the Swain Reefs, October 1962.

The Long-spined Sea Urchin, Diadema savignyi, is common throughout tropical areas of the Indo-Pacific Ocean from the shoreline to depths of 70 m. In Australia it occurs in a north-eastern arc from southern Western Australia to Sydney. The spines of this species grow to approximately 20 cm long and contain irritant toxins. The spines may also harbour small fish, such as the Striped Siphonfish Siphamia majimai, which live in association with the sea urchin.

Sea urchins are relatives of starfishes and belong to a group of animals called echinoderms. They are mostly encountered on rocky shores, beaches and coral reefs. Sea urchins are characterised by moveable spines that occur in a variety of shapes and colours. There are approximately 800 described sea urchin species worldwide, over 200 of which are recorded from Australia. Sea urchins generally feed by grazing on plant material growing on surfaces, or by burrowing in sediments to find decaying material. They can reach high population densities and, through their feeding activities, can be key organisms in determining the community composition and appearance of marine ecosystems.

The Australian Museum collection contains representatives of over 300 sea urchin species and the most recent catalogue of Australian echinoderms, including sea urchins, was compiled by former Australian Museum staff (Rowe and Gates) in 1995.


Dr Stephen Keable , Collection Manager, Marine Invertebrates
Last Updated:

Tags Collection stories, echinoderms, sea urchins, invertebrates, marine,