Please Explain: Jellyfish

Friday, July 08, 2011

A series of new studies has revealed that jellyfish are far more than mindless blobs that can spoil your day at the beach. On today’s Please Explain, Steve Bailey, Curator of Fishes at the New England Aquarium, and Marine Biologist and Chief Aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Michael Howard discuss why jellyfish are much more complex and interesting than scientists once thought. 

Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder
The Black Sea Nettle

The black sea nettle is considered a giant jelly; its distinctive purplish bell can reach over three feet (91 cm) in diameter; its lacy, pinkish oral-arms can reach nearly 20 feet (6 m) in length and its stinging tentacles 25 feet (7.6 m) or more. It probably lives in deeper, calmer waters but has appeared in large blooms in California coastal waters, most recently in 2010.

This species is also known as a "lagoon jelly" because it lives in bays, harbors and lagoons in the South Pacific. Spotted jellies have rounded bells and strange clumps of oral arms with clublike appendages that hang down below. Instead of a single mouth, they have many small mouth openings on their oral-arms, which capture small animal plankton. In addition, each jelly grows a crop of algae, which gives them a greenish-brown color. They harvest some of their food directly from the algae.

This striking and rare jelly has brilliant, multicolored tentacles trailing from a translucent, pinstriped bell. It also has tentacles around the rim of its bell that it can quickly coil and uncoil. This mysterious jelly is semi-benthic, sometimes spending its time on the seafloor.

The blue jelly comes in colors ranging from very light blue to dark purple and burgundy, and its bell pulses in a distinctive, staccatolike rhythm. Multiple oral arms and mouths transport food to the jelly's stomach. As with all true jellies, blue jellies alternate between a sexual medusa stage and an asexual polyp stage. Adult medusae brood their fertilized eggs and the resulting planula larvae. People can safely eat this poisonous jelly once it's been correctly dried and processed.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Spotted Comb Jellies

The rare and extremely delicate spotted comb jelly (Leucothea pulchra). This stunning species, found in the Pacific Ocean from California’s Central Coast south to the Sea of Cortez, is very difficult to collect – one touch and the jelly can disintegrate like tissue in water. It can reach nine and three-quarters inches long. It has amazing physiology – it swims horizontally, and its large oral lobes—which can be as long as its body—open to catch prey. It can also fold each lobe into a tube when it finds something to eat.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Moon Jellies

The Moon Jelly (Aurelia spp.) is named after its moon-like bell, which can grow up to 15 inches in diameter and is usually a translucent milky white, although it may be tinted pink or lavender. Instead of long, trailing tentacles, these jellies have a short, fine fringe that helps funnel food—often trapped by mucus on the bell—into the mouth and the four, clearly visible stomach pouches. Moon jellies are common in Monterey Bay and along the California coast, and in waters off the East Coast, Europe, Japan and in the Gulf of Mexico.



Steve Bailey and Michael Howard

Comments [16]

nycyn from NYC

I'm sorry, I thought this was wNYC. Banging head on wall. Again.

Oh wait. Pee on my my kid's leg. That was helpful. Really.

Jul. 09 2011 01:57 AM
Cynthia from East River

Aw you talk to fast! :-(

Super fast forward/version then?

Speak to us of the red jelly fish that have popped up in the shallows of the East River estuary in like the last two years?

Beautiful. Kaleidoscope-like. And why do the keep surfacing. Quite spectacular but I don't think I want to mess with them.

I fish in the East River on the lower est side and they have made an appearance, along with crabs, eels, minnows. Fun to watch.

Jul. 09 2011 01:40 AM
Cynthia from East River

Please give the number again...

Jul. 09 2011 01:29 AM
Flowerboy from Red Bank, NJ

The items located off the Jersey shore were identified as Salps

Jul. 08 2011 01:58 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Well if you're having a picnic on the beach and you have brought pickles, the pickle juice (not brined) might work (if the acid is high enough).

Jul. 08 2011 01:58 PM

I'm curious whether there is an industrial use for jellyfish or jellyfish parts (tentacles, venom, etc) that would justify our harvesting of them, reducing their numbers at sea and especially in the Chesapeake.

Jul. 08 2011 01:56 PM
Iguanaluv from NY, NY

Is it true that urine helps to rid the sting of jelly fish?

Jul. 08 2011 01:55 PM
marion from chinatown

can your guests speak about the Irukandji? Supposedly they're very tiny and very deadly. Why do they need such a "high octane sting"? Is their prey enormous?

Jul. 08 2011 01:54 PM
Mary Joyce Carlson

for jellyfish stings: apply meat tenderizer (sprinkle on & rub in a bit

Jul. 08 2011 01:51 PM
Ken from Soho

Has anyone ever made a peanut butter and jellyfish sandwich?

Jul. 08 2011 01:48 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Great pictures! What strange and interesting creatures.

Jul. 08 2011 01:45 PM
Rob Dwyer from Fanwood, NJ

Last weekend in the ocean of Belmar, NJ, there were millions if not billions of pea-sized clear jellyfish. Were these eggs, or young, or just pieces of larger jellyfish? Some had small dark specks inside but others were perfectly clear.

Jul. 08 2011 01:42 PM
Ellen from Cape Cod

On a beach that borders both the Atlantic and Nantucket Sound there were thousands of 1/2 inch "bubbles" of jelly-fish-like material. (Very beautiful). They did not have tentacles nor sting in their whole state, but one of us received a severe sting from an unknown substance high on the beach. What might these "bubbles" have been?

Jul. 08 2011 01:40 PM
Diane Henderson from wayne, nj

i used to swim in quarries in northwestern NJ. In at least 2 of them, I saw many small jelly fish. They were as large as a 50 cent piece to as small as a dime. They were clear and had a four leaf clover design in the middle. They had small tentacles, but did not sting. How did they get into the quarries and what kind of jelly were they. Thank you.

Jul. 08 2011 01:40 PM
Harvey from Hells Kitchen

Just wondering: "If you feed peanut butter to Jelly Fish, is it possible to develop a peanut butter and Jelly Fish?"

Jul. 08 2011 01:18 PM
Lloyd from Manhattan

I sometime see coin-size bits of what appear to be jellyfish on the beach. What are they? Thank you.

Jul. 08 2011 12:52 PM

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