Marine Biology: Plague in the Sea

Few creatures are more aptly named. The crown-of-thorns, a large, reddish brown sea dweller, has as many as 21 arms, all covered with venomous spines that can temporarily paralyze a swimmer and provoke fits of vomiting. Known to biologists as Acanthaster planci, this sinister-looking, 2-ft.-wide starfish is an even greater menace to some of its tiny aquatic neighbors. It likes nothing better than to feed on the living coral reefs where it makes its home.

Lately its appetite has become alarming. Once a relatively rare nocturnal predator, the crown-of-thorns suddenly began proliferating in the South Pacific a decade ago. Since...

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