An unbelievably gruesome epidemic is ravaging starfish populations

A mysterious illness has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of starfish on North America's west coast, and its symptoms are horrifying. Dubbed "sea star wasting syndrome," the arms of an infected individual will twist into knots, develop lesions, and finally crawl away in opposite directions until they tear away from its body, allowing its insides to spill out.

Researchers still aren't sure how the disease spreads, let alone where it comes from. What they do know is that sea stars occupy a pivotal niche in ocean ecosystems, and large-scale die outs are almost certainly a very bad sign. In a fascinating piece that's as sad as it is disturbing, PBS special correspondent Katie Campbell reports on how researchers and citizen scientists are teaming up to investigate the spread of the mysterious syndrome:

Want to help researchers figure out what's going on? Head here and here to learn how you can help scientists track the incidence and spread of the syndrome with photographs and the hashtag #sickstarfish.

[PBS]