Zoologist and Research Collaborator

Zoologist Dr. Christopher Mah in a hall between storage cabinets holding a purple sunstar (Solaster endeca) that looks yellow
Dr. Christopher Mah showing off a purple sunstar (Solaster endeca) from the collections at the National Museum of Natural History

Dr. Christopher Mah is an echinoderm researcher at the National Museum of Natural History, specializing in sea stars (aka starfish or asteroids). Throughout junior high and high school in San Francisco, he visited tidepools and aquariums with his family and was fascinated by worms and other unusual animals. This interest was further fueled by his great love of science fiction books, movies and TV. During a summer undergraduate internship he discovered that sea stars were amazing, and yet for all their familiarity their biology was very poorly understood. His fascination with sea stars led Chris to a Masters in Marine Biology from San Francisco State University and a PhD in Paleontology from the University of Illinois.

Chris’s research at the Smithsonian focuses on the evolution, biology, and biodiversity of asteroids, identifying and classifying starfish. He has done a diverse range of fieldwork including ship time on vessels in Antarctica, the Aleutians, Monterey Bay, the Hawaiian Islands and the Caribbean but also geology field work in Florida. He has descended in submersibles to explore deep-sea settings in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. So far, he has described nearly two dozen new species and 7 new genera of starfish and has unraveled the “family tree” of two major groups of sea stars. He has an appreciation for weirdness and loves the adventure of discovering new starfish and understanding their stories.