The bed-forming brittlestars Ophiothrix fragilis, Ophiocomina nigra and Amphiura chiajei from Oban Bay, Scotland were studied using methods previously employed to study chemoautotrophic symbioses. Ophiothrix fragilis and A. chiajei both contain symbiotic bacteria (SCB) while Ophiocomina nigra is non-symbiotic. Samples were taken of Ophiothrix fragilis at approximately two-week intervals for one year. Symbiotic bacteria numbers were determined by direct counting of homogenates of the arms of 50 individual brittlestars. Water samples were analysed for chlorophyll content. Stable isotope ratios for carbon and nitrogen were determined for each homogenate sample. Regular SCB counts were made on the infaunal brittlestar A. chiajei. Homogenate samples of Ophiothrix fragilis, A. chiajei and the non-symbiotic Ophiocomina nigra were analysed to produce fatty acid profiles for each species. Symbiotic bacteria count varied by up to one order of magnitude in both Ophiothrix fragilis and A. chiajei with no evidence of seasonality in this variation. Symbiotic bacteria number was inversely correlated with δ15N but no relationship was established with δ13C. 16:1ω7 and 18:1.ω7 fatty acids were used as putative bacterial markers. Both symbiotic species had higher percentages of 16:1ω7 than the non-symbiotic Ophiocomina nigra. However, only Ophiothrix fragilis appeared to receive appreciable quantities of 18:1ω7 from its SCB. The SCB are heterotrophic and may contribute to the nitrogen budget of the host. The two symbiotic species studied here derive the bulk of their nutrition from conventional feeding but SCB make significant, additional contributions.