You wanted sea monsters, you’re getting more sea monsters. But today, we’re not talking about powerful fins or sharp teeth, no.
We’re talking about ancient gooey shapeshifting poison wads.
Today’s Moment of Science… I will fight every ghost from the Titanic before a single goddamn jellyfish.
A lot of bloop-bloops we think of as jellyfish are scattered across the tree of life, but the rules on grouping critters are more like guidelines anyway. The Medusozoa subphylum, so named for their telltale bell or umbrella shape, branches off into several groups. The class scyphozoa are the ‘true’ jellies, with cubozoa called ‘box jellyfish’ and staurozoa ‘stalked jellyfish,’ references to their shapes.
Hydrozoans, on the other hand, are a class of Medusozoans just different enough that they’re not quite jellyfish. Those motherfuckers include the Portuguese Man O’ War, they’re considered predators, and often work in colonies. They ‘re getting their own ‘wtf, darwin?’ day.
There’s quite enough to talk about with jellies without them, because with one hole to rule both realms, they literally can’t figure out their ass from their mouth. Depending on your kinks- and I’m not here to judge- perhaps this is a feature not a bug.
It seems whatever they’ve got is a working system, because these jet propelled sea gummies are older than the dinosaurs. Jellyfish hail from well over 500 million years ago- possibly 700 million- while dinosaurs showed up a mere 245 million years ago. Living fossils, these gelatinous zooplankton are the oldest known multi-organ animals.
If you already knew one thing about them, other than their ability to communicate telepathically with Nicolas Cage, it’s that jellyfish come armed with some nasty little stingers. Nematocysts, a type of cell their tentacles can release on contact, are responsible for the infamous stinging, burning, questioning-your-life-decisions sensation we’ve come to associate with these undulating water balloons. This venom is typically used to kill or stun something much smaller than humans for a meal, so many species produce a sting that’s mildly irritating to us at worst, but bad news for some tiny crustaceans.
On the other hand, the Chironex fleckeri, a box jellyfish known as the sea wasp, is the deadliest of the bunch. With tentacles that can stretch up to ten feet long and release highly toxic cnidocytes, just one of these terror sacks is estimated to have enough venom to kill sixty people.
Fucking of course it’s in Australia.
I’m just saying even though most jellyfish probably won’t kill you, it’s probably best not to use the ‘fuck around and find out’ method of species identification if you’re not an expert.
There are a bunch of lovely and enigmatic jellyfish out there that humans have only met briefly in passing. Deepstaria Enigmatica looks like a semi-conscious transparent plastic bag with a butthole, peacefully drifting through the ocean. The Atolla jellyfish doesn’t goddamn look real. If you spook it, don’t worry about venom, but it’ll put on a bioluminescent light show in an attempt to get a bigger predator to come eat you. Clever girl.
Stygiomedusa gigantea is possibly the largest invertebrate predator in the deep sea, thriving far from where humans typically venture. It’s rarely seen but proposed to be relatively common, stealthily roaming the depths with a three foot wide bell and drapey arms extending as long as forty feet to elegantly usher unsuspecting prey to their end.
It’s the jellyfish’ world. We’re just living in it.
This has been your Moment of Science, still panicked at the number of these that I’m not entirely sure aren’t aliens.
To get the Moment of Science in your inbox every weekday with tales of NASA funded dolphin handjobs, rocket scientist orgies, and fucking… Australia… head to patreon.com/scibabe.