What exactly makes jellies so interesting? Is it the mesmerizing, pulsing way they move? Maybe it’s the fact that they’re beautiful AND dangerous (we’re looking at you, box jelly), or maybe it’s simply that they look like transparent underwater aliens. Whatever the reason – we’re right there with you concerning the crazy cool factor of the wonderful world of jellies.
Incredibly, jellies are as old as time. They’ve inhabited the earth’s oceans for hundreds of millions of years, and speaking of oceans, they can be found in every single one, from the surface to the deep sea. Some can even be found in fresh water environments, such as the craspedacusta sowerbii.
And since we’re discussing crazy names – why do you see jellies referred to as jellyfish AND jellies? Well, in more recent years, it’s been decided that the name “jellyfish” is a misnomer. With no bones, no blood, and no brains, jellies aren’t actually fish at all, so scientists, aquariums and zoos nationwide have begun referring to them simply as jellies.
As jellies drift thousands of miles with the ocean’s currents, they have to keep energized. Diet is species-specific, but most jellies dine on fish eggs, plankton, brine shrimp, and larger jellies will eat sea snails, and even small fish.
Jellies can range in size from a few centimeters in width, like the Irukandji jelly of Australia, to the Lion’s Mane jelly, which can grow to be the size of a minivan. A jelly that size has got to pack a whopping stinging punch, right? Wrong. While Lion’s Mane jellies can sting and these injuries do irritate the skin, they are mostly minor. The venomous stings of the infamous Box Jelly, as well as the tiny Irukandji are infinitely more dangerous. Among the most deadly in the world, containing toxins that attack the heart, nervous system, and skin cells, the Box Jelly’s sting can easily be fatal. It is so overpoweringly painful, human victims have been known to go into shock and drown or die of heart failure before even reaching shore. Survivors can experience considerable pain for weeks and often have significant scarring where the tentacles made contact.
If you ever find yourself the victim of a jelly sting, Texas State Aquarium Aquarist Victoria says the last thing you want to do is pour fresh water on it. “Fresh water will actually cause the nematocysts to keep firing, and it’ll cause even more pain. Definitely use salt water instead as it deactivates stinging cells,” she advises. Next, Victoria says you should rinse the affected area with vinegar, and then soak the area in the hottest water you can stand. A mild anti-itch or hydrocortisone crème can be used for less severe stings for the next several days, as well as an ice pack and antibiotic ointment as necessary. For severe stings or severe reactions to stings, call 911 and seek medical treatment immediately.
Here at TSA, we house and exhibit lagoon jellies, upside downs, Pacific and Atlantic sea nettles, moon jellies, and comb jellies. Come check them out and learn more about them at our Floating Phantoms exhibit!