Steve the Working Urchin

Steve the Working Urchin

Steve the only Working Urchin on Twitter

Meet Steve. Steve is a sea urchin. He’s a WORKING sea urchin.


I met Steve when the lovely Lindsay Waldrop was curating RealScientists* on Twitter. She tweeted a photo of him, saying “This is Steve. He’s a working urchin.” 

Regular visitors to the Lily Pad will understand why I immediately took to Steve. He’s not just any old urchin. He’s a WORKING urchin. With a Twitter account.



Lindsay has kindly indulged my insanity allowed me some time with Steve to interview him about life in the tank, the universe, and how tasty white star fish are.

Hi Steve. How are you today?

Hi Frog. I am lonely because the caretaker has not been in to see me because of anchor ice (e.g. snow storm). It is very distressing, but I think I will survive another day.

Oh Steve you poor thing. I’m sure your caretaker will get back to you as soon as she can. I’ve never seen an urchin like you before (I’m a frog, not a fish, after all). Can you explain to us what kind of urchin you are?

I’m a very special creature. Christopher Mah, an echinoderm expert at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, identified me as a slate pencil urchin, Eucidaris tribuloides. His blog is here:

A WORKING slate pencil urchin. Very cool. What’s your favourite thing to eat?

I very much enjoy munching on algae that grow in my tank. I have been also know to eat the caretaker’s sea squirts, and the small white starfish that steal attention from me on occasion. They are far less adorable than me.

I’ve heard some terrible things about starfish so I don’t blame you for eating them. So how did you end up in your tank?

I spent some time in a fish store before the caretaker brought me home in a bag of water. This was stressful, as I have decided I do not care for rides in the car. I like my new tank home much better than a bag of water.

What do you like most about being a working urchin?

I enjoy the plentiful supply of algae and visits by the caretaker and my undergrad friends.

Is there anything you don’t like about being a working urchin?

My hermit crab tank-mates. They are annoying and crawl all over me. I wish I could eat them, but they are too fast to catch.

So who’s your best friend?

I suppose the caretaker, but don’t tell her I said that. I like to keep some mystery in our relationship.

Your secret is safe with me. So, apart from being crawled on by cheeky hermit crabs, what’s the worst thing that’s every happened to you?

Once, there was a problem with a pump that cleans the tank. It pumped out half of my tank’s water before the caretaker realized what was happening! I hid under a rock until the caretaker found me and replaced the water. I am still quite traumatized by it.

That sounds awful. Let’s talk about something happier. What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you while working as an urchin?

I caught and ate one of those annoying white starfish that steal attention from me. It was tasty.

I like to hear when those evil starfish get their comeuppance! I met you through your caretaker but I see you have your own Twitter account now. How are you enjoying Twitter?

I am enjoying the attention very much. As an adorable and superior being, I deserve attention.

Indeed you do! Speaking of attention, what did  a handsome urchin like you do for Valentine’s Day? Did you have a hot date?

I was alone because of the anchor ice, with only hermit crabs  and snails to keep me company. Over lunch, the snails and I had a very slow conversation about the hermit crabs. It wasn’t the hot date I was hoping for. I blame climate change.

Oh. Well that’s awkward. I’m sure you’ll have lots of admirers now you’re on Twitter. In one sentence, why do you think people should follow you on Twitter, Steve?


Thanks so much for chatting with me today Steve. The algae is in the post.

Any time, Frog. Tell your friends to follow me. THE ONLY WORKING URCHIN ON TWITTER. 

Steve sleep

Steve heading to bed for the day

*@realscientists  is an account curated by a different scientist each week and it’s awesome not only because I met Steve through it, but also because of the fascinating, educational and often surprising content. Get on it, Twitlings.

A revelation that will change human history (AKA you and your spermatophores are going home alone)

Hold onto your hats everyone. This is a biggy.

I’ve just worked out the answer to one of the great questions of human existence.

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that most of you don’t know how a starfish eats. Or how cuttlefish mate.


So the marine biologists in my vast (cough) audience are yawning right now. But hang on! That’s not the big revelation.

You see, starfish are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to eating. They do have mouths, and they have stomachs (handy really). No that’s not the revelation either.

Starfish have mouths basically on their tummies. You know, the underside of their bodies. Where a lot of us mammals have a navel.

To eat, a starfish has to get on top of its food, extend its stomach out of its mouth, envelope its prey, wait for it to start to digest and then draw stomach back in, food included.


A vicious starfish waiting for a diver to mistake it for a stylish Fascinator

Which I think explains why, while there are many deep-sea creatures who like to put homo-sapiens on the menu, there are no man-eating starfish. I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I’m standing still, wearing a starfish as a hat, long enough for the little fucker to digest me.

I know, right? That’s a pretty BIG conclusion to come to. But that’s not the revelation either.

Now to cuttlefish. These deep-sea cephalopods are fairly smart*, but you could never call them romantic. To mate, the male inserts a packet of sperm into an opening near the female’s mouth. She then leisurely fertilises her eggs and hangs them from a suitable object and waits for them to mature.

Hey honey, why don’t you come back to my place where we can turn the lights down low… put on some jazz… and I can place my sack of sperm in the opening near your mouth so you can fertilise them and hang them from the clothes airer… yeah…

I’m busy tonight washing my mantle… you and your spermatophore are going home alone tonight.

Keep those sperm packets away from me, fella…

Interesting as it is, even the lack of romantic frisson in the sex life of a cuttlefish isn’t the revelation.

Between male cuttlefish aggressively displaying to their own reflections, (hey dude, keep your egg sacks away from my laydee…), female cuttlefish eyeing off the fixtures for a good place to hang an egg, and starfish chucking their stomachs all over the place…


It also proves that old adage that some things are best done in private.

* Google “cross-dressing cuttlefish” if you don’t believe me. Goes to show that smart wins over pretty even in marine biology.

What weird sea-life facts do you know?