Earlier this year we reported on a grisly disease that’s causing thousands of starfish to tear themselves apart – and though researchers have ruled out a few potential causes, they still aren’t sure what is causing the deaths. Scientists first discovered the problem – which causes starfish to sag and rupture, spilling their organs out – months ago, and it hasn’t showed any signs of slowing. What’s particularly concerning is that the issue is impacting 18 different types of starfish – and it could potential wipe out entire species.

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Scientists aren’t sure where the problem started or what is causing it, but they do know that it isn’t caused by fungi or parasites. Researchers are focused on determining if the disease is caused by a virus or bacteria imported into the area unknowingly, but for now there are more questions than answers. “What is it that has caused this? Where did it come from? If it’s exotic, how did it get here? Is it something that’s likely to be repeated?” asked Pete Raimondi, from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Related: Horrifying Disease Causes Thousands of Starfish to Pull Themselves Apart

This isn’t the first time that a disease has threatened starfish populations, but it’s worse than any previous problems from the past few decades. Scientists are particularly concerned because starfish are important to the sea environment. They normally act as incredibly resilient predators, and their loss would greatly impact ocean ecology. Right now, a loosely formed group of researchers continues to search for an answer before that happens.

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Lisa Williams, image via Jason Hollinger