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The water vascular system of the starfish is a hydraulic system made up of a network of fluid-filled canals and is concerned with locomotion, adhesion, food manipulation and gas exchange.
Water enters the system through the madreporite, a porous, often conspicuous, sieve-like ossicle on the aboral surface.
Some are thought to assist in defence, while others aid in feeding or in the removal of organisms attempting to settle on the starfish's surface.
The edges of adjacent paxillae meet to form a false cuticle with a water cavity beneath in which the madreporite and delicate gill structures are protected.
All the ossicles, including those projecting externally, are covered by the epidermal layer.
Pedicellariae are compound ossicles with forceps-like jaws.
They remove debris from the body surface and wave around on flexible stalks in response to physical or chemical stimuli while continually making biting movements. Paxillae are umbrella-like structures found on starfish that live buried in sediment.