The Invisible Predator of the Depth

2010/11/01
By Monica

Photo source: Asbjorn Hansen

There have always been conversations about animals with the power of camouflage and now there is even more to talk about.  A certain species of jellyfish can almost make itself ‘invisible.  This meaning that the jellyfish can make itself unknown to the prey it is about to capture.  The full name of this specimen is the Mnemiopsis leidyi, also known as the North American comb jellyfish. The North American comb jellyfish has bright bands of colors that divide the body into eight areas.  The comb jellyfish’s diet consists mainly of copepods, a plank tonic organism.

The following video was created by the Vancouver Aquarium.  It is a simple explanation on the appearance of the North American comb jellyfish.  Please notice the vibrant, exotic colors of the vertical ciliary combs.

This cunning jellyfish has an amazing tactic for survival which is making it not known to predators.  As stated before the main prey of the comb jellyfish is the Copepod.  Copepods are challenging to catch because of their ability to notice the slightest movement in water.  It would have thought to be a problem for the jellies because of their large gelatinous body.  The large body size would raise their chances of encountering prey, but would also decrease the actual amount of prey they catch because the plankton are highly cautious and would be able to detect the movements in the water; but the jellyfish have a certain mechanism that beat the odds.

The process of the voracious comb jellyfish was unknown until just recently when scientists were able to use advanced video technology to study the jellyfish.  It was shown that that the comb jellyfish use microscopic cilia (hairlike organelles) inside the oral lobes.  From there it creates a feeding ‘wave’ that slyly moves water between the lobes.  As the water moves slowly and carefully, it is carried into the jellyfish with the prey.  This technique leaves the prey unalarmed and not suspecting of being captured. By the time the Copepod is aware of what is going on it is too late to even think about escaping.

As you can see, the jellyfish do not literally turn invisible, but it might as well.  The functions of these unique creatures make the study of them so much more fascinating and interesting. What vibrant colors tend to actually light up of the jellyfish?  Also, how long does the process of catching the Copepod last? Soon, with this amazing method, the North American comb jellyfish will be the masters of the sea!

  • Emily

    Wow, Monica! This was so interesting and so amazing! This was really a very unique form of camouflage, and I certainly have never seen anything like this before. I researched more about the jellies and found that their bodies maintain an oval-like shape with eight rows of minute comblike plates that diffract light. They produce many colors including blue, green, purple, and orange, and they are even able to enlarge their stomachs to hold prey. Some comb jellies even feed off of other comb jellies by biting off chunks of them! Also, most comb jellies are carnivorous by nature.
    Most jellies also are able to sense chemical traces in the water, which makes it easier for them to catch prey. They also have a gravity-sensitive structure, named a statocyst, that gives them a feeling for up and down.

    http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=LeWQvjcLBGS+vsO6xgIjKA==
    http://www.jellyfishfacts.net/comb-jellyfish.html

  • Deirdre

    Monica, this topic is insane and almost unbelievable! This was so intriguing, I knew I had to read more about it. These comb jellies are very interesting animals besides the very unique habit displayed above. I learned some new things about this animal, one being that they are hermaphrodites. This means they can each produce eggs and sperm. Fertilization of eggs is done outside the body, but the eggs are put back in the creature’s body for safety before birth. I also learned that these animals are found in abundance during summer seasons at coastal locations, but any other time of the year are difficult to find.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ctenophora

  • Eva

    Very nice article Monica! I did a little more research on the subject and found out some more info on the jellies. According to a scientist named Wim van Egmond the jellies are one of the most beautiful species in the ocean. He said that another common term for the species is called sea gooseberries. He reported that even though they are related to the jellyfish species, they have also made their own, called Ctenophore. These Ctenophores can reach considerable sizes and they can be found in every ocean in the whole world!
    The sea gooseberries mostly swim near the top of the water, near the very surface, this makes it easy for people to scoop them up with a thin net, or even a glass jar.
    To add on to what Emily said about their eating habits, my article states that comb jellies are one of the biggest predators in the sea. They use their long tentacles to catch plankton and other bacteria living among plankton.
    One of the characteristics that shows how different regular jellyfish and Ctenophore are is the shape of the larva when they are very young. When the Ctenophore are in the shape of a larva, if they are placed under microscope, one can clearly see the sense organ, which is very unusual for all jellyfish. I thought that this was a very interesting topic and I hope to learn more about it on the blog!
    http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artmay98/comb.html

  • Taylor

    Fascinating post Monica! I must say it was very interesting and I wanted to keep reading more. I did some extra research and I found that the “Mnemiopsis leidyi”, creates a beautiful shimmering effect, like all the colors of the rainbow. This is due to the fact that comb jellies have eight rows of ciliated combs, which are small plates made up of short “hairs”, or cilia. The ciliated combs run along the outside of their bodies. Interference/interactions in the cilia cause light to be reflected, producing the different colors. Unlike jellyfish, comb jellies lack stinging cells and are unable to sting. In the day, the the comb jellies are iridescent, but at night they produce colors. The most common color they produce is green.
    The comb jellies are like no other jelly fish. They are different, unique, beautiful creatures. I found some great facts on this website, and i encourage readers to check it out.
    http://144.122.146.197/mldb/AboutML.aspx

  • Alice

    Great post Monica! I had never heard of these interesting creatures before reading your post. I did a little more research about the spread of comb jellies. Comb jellies originally were accidentally introduced to the Black Sea in the 1980s and have continued to spread to oceans all across the world. In the 1990s, comb jellies reportedly spread through the Caspian Sea, venturing to the Baltic Sea more recently. Nowadays, comb jellies can be found as close as off the coast of Massachusetts and at other locations around the Western Atlantic coast. According to Sean Colin, a biology professor at Roger Williams University, the spread of comb jellies has been positively impacted by the increased water temperatures due to Global Warming. The spread of comb jellies has also been the result of the creatures’ amazing regenerative abilities. Comb jellies are able to restore damaged parts, without leaving scar tissue, in a matter of hours. Comb jellies are able to repair up to 50 percent of their bodies. Comb jellies are predicted to continue to spread more and more rapidly as time progresses.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080813101741.htm

  • Andrea

    I really like this topic, Monica. After I did more research on comb jellies, I found that comb jellyfish are not actually jellyfish. The comb jellyfish comes from the Ctenophora phylum, and jellyfish come from the Coelenterate phylum. The comb jelly is the only member that make up this phylum. Organisms in the Ctenophora phylum do not have stinging cells, which means that the comb jellies cannot sting you. The reasons why people may get the two confused is because they both have the jelly-like body structure.
    Although I couldn’t find how long it took a comb jelly to eat its prey, I did find how they catch it. One common way the comb jellyfish catches it prey is by spreading out into the water to form a net. The prey then swim into the net and get stuck to the tentacles. That’s when the plankton is eaten. If you want more information on the topic, go to the link below:
    http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/fieldcourses01/PapersMarineEcologyArticles/CombJellies.ICantBelievei.html

  • Noa

    Great post Monica! I decided to do some more research on jellyfish and found that they have certain stages of life that make them act certain ways. There is a big phase of reproduction jellyfish go through that has four initial steps. The first is a medusa phase (fun fact – in Hebrew jellyfish are actually called medusa) which is referred to a “free swimming” period where the actual sexual reproduction of the jellyfish occurs. This of course is when the male and female jellyfish release sperm and eggs, and once they are fertilized the second phase begins. This phase is called planula, which is when the fertilized egg swims for about 48 hours and settles on a hard surface which is when the third phase begins, called polyp. This is the asexual period of the cycle where the egg starts to look like a small anemone. The polyp can reproduce an entire colony of polyps from one of its body parts. The other polyps then break away and go into the last phase, called ephyra which is where it eats, grows, and goes into the phase of medusa. From there everything starts again, and that it’s the life cycle of a jellyfish.

    http://www.tnaqua.org/Exhibit_JLA_faq.aspx
    http://nationalaquarium.wordpress.com/category/aquatic-life/jellies-aquatic-life/

  • Nick

    Great post Monica! I found the same information as Emily on the vibrant colors of the jellyfish; they are commonly blue, green, purple, and orange. Also, through my research I found some pretty intriguing facts, and how hard it is to study these jellyfish. To study the jellyfish you can’t just take it out of the water, because it breaks very easily. In order to study these creatures up close and personally you must put them in a jar and observe them from the sides of the jar. Also the website below shows some really interesting facts on the Comb Jellyfish.

    http://www.chesapeakebay.net/bfg_combjellies.aspx?menuitem=14417

  • gurk

    Great job Monica! Just like Eva i found more info on Ctenophora. Its body is 8 center meters wide but 150 center meters long and it can swim with a snake like movement in the water. However it is often seen at night hanging unmoving in the water, visible because of its greenish-gold phosphorescence. It has been called the Sea Sword by sailors in the past.The Ctenophore body consists of two layers of cells called the ‘Epidermis’ and the ‘Gastrodermis’.
    here is the link i found this info on. http://www.earthlife.net/inverts/ctenophora.html

  • Joe

    Jellyfish, are an extraordinary creature. I found your post on this particular jellyfish to be quite interesting. There was an earlier post this year by Leyla on fireflies and how they could be used as medication. I Researched some more and discovered like the fireflies, jellyfish are being studied to help us cure diseases. They like fireflies produce a substance that allows them to give of light. Scientist are studying genes that allow the jellyfish to emit light. Some cells in a human body can overproduce hormones that cause autoimmune diseases like lupus.(Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic, inflammatory
    autoimmune disorder. It may affect the skin, joints, kidneys, and
    other organs) They are using the genes, that allow jellyfish to light up, to mutate cells so the overproduction of a hormone is shown so doctors can study the overproduction and stop it. I just thought it was cool that the two articles were related.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5061761/Fireflies-help-study-of-diseases-by-making-cells-glow.html
    https://health.google.com/health/ref/Systemic+lupus+erythematosus

  • James M.

    Great post Monica! I was very intrigued by your post. I decided to do more research on how the jellies camoflouge and catch their prey. Although the jellyfish changes to many different colors. It’s size contributes to it’s chances of capturing prey. They are also extremely fast swimmers. Thye can get to prey thats is close to them in a split second. The jelleis are very good pretators. They are so good that it hasn’t been discovered how they catch plankton. Very good post Monica. In the future I hope that we have further conversations about North American Comb Jellyfish.

    http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2010/10/13/voracious_comb_jellyfish_invisible_to_prey.html

  • Leyla

    Fascinating post Monica. I decided to research the history of the comb jellies. Turns out that that jellies have, surprisingly, caused a great deal of disruption in the ecosystems of the seas. They make up about 90% of the living creatures in the Black Sea, and, after the jellies invaded, the seafood industry around the sea has lost a billion dollars. After invading the Black Sea, the jellies invaded the Azov Sea, and, as Alice said, are now in the Caspian and Baltic Seas as well. Also, there is less oxygen in the Black Sea because of the jellies, and they have contributed to the deaths of many dolphins (because they have taken away their prey.)

    http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/problems/shipping/alien_invaders/

  • Aurora

    Great post Monica! i did some research on the feeding behaviors of the comb jellies. I found that this species of jelly fish are categorized as ambush predators. This is another reason why making themselves seem almost invisible to prey is so important. I also learned that their prey not only consists of copepods, but also other planktonic organisms. Their prey can detect any unusual signs of movement in the water, which makes it even more difficult for these jellies to capture prey. Making themselves unseen from potential prey greatly increases their chances of survival. This also relates back to what we learned in class, how every organism’s goal is to survive to reproduce.

    http://www.caspianenvironment.org/biodb/eng/zooplankton/Mnemiopsis%20leidyi/main.htm
    http://plankt.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/11/2037.full

  • gunnar

    Wow great post Monica! i actually know a lot about Jellyfish and i know that the Comb Jellyfish is known as the ambush jelly, that is why it is usually never seen before it attacks. Comb jellyfish can’t really attack large organisms because the comb jellyfish is kind of small so they go for small organisms such as plankton. In class we talked about the animals biological goal which is to survive and reproduce, but since plankton can sense any danger or fear they can run before they get harmed, which makes it harder for the comb jellyfish to reach it’s biological goal.
    Sources:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ctenophora
    http://www.jellyfishfacts.net/comb-jellyfish.html

  • http://www.bukisa.com/articles/57638_the-most-amazing-animal-camouflage Josh

    Great post Monica, i have always been fascinated by undersea camouflage. These comb jellies aren’t the only sea creatures that use camouflage, the Blue Ringed Octopus uses camouflage to blend in with coral to hide from predators or to capture prey. The Leafy Sea Dragon blends in with sea weed and coral too. These are just two of many sea creatures that use camouflage to meet their biological goal, to survive and reproduce.

  • Josh

    Besides jellyfish there are many other animals that incorporate camouflage. For example the stick bug. It looks like a stick, but it is a bug. The stick bug is born with a body that mimics a stick that would be found in its environment. For example if the stick bug lived in a tropical environment like a rain forest it would look like a twig with little green leaves on it. But if it lived in the dessert filled with dead shrubs it would look like a dead twig.
    Another animal that incorporates camouflage is the chameleon. This lizard can change its color using cells that contain pigments. So if you put the chameleon by a green leaf there is a good chance that it will turn green. There are many more animals that have camouflage capabilities. We humans can camouflage our selves by putting suits of grass and twigs on( the military does that, they put on Ghille suits.) there is a crab that can do the same thing, it takes sea weed and attaches it to its self. Even some sorts of octopi can do that.

    http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/mellers-chameleon/

  • Naseem

    Sweet post, Monica! But while I was reading the post’s comments, I came across Deirdre’s post and noticed that her source, Wikipedia, isn’t always a credible source because really ANYBODY could’ve written what was there. So Deirdre, I found you a more credible source to use! http://www.earthlife.net/inverts/ctenophora.html
    Also, I have a tip. Though I didn’t do this, sometimes tempting Wikipedia articles actually include credible sources in their references. Instead of using Wikipedia as your source, you can look at the References at the bottom of the page, read its information, and use that instead! :D

  • Ms Baker

    Great work, Naseem! I was waiting for someone to jump in and start critiquing websites. Everyone else, please join! It’s a great and easy way to get comments points.

  • Gabriela

    Great post, Monica! This post has sparked many different comments. Noa’s comment caught my interest, she talked about the reproductive stages of jellyfish.
    I researched jellyfish reproduction and mating rituals, I came across one type of jellyfish that mate sexually, the carybdea sivickisi.
    This ritual begins when the male jellyfish grabs hold to the females tentacles and pulls her along all over the water. After this has happened, the male pulls the female in very closely, so that they are touching manubrias. Manurbias are the jellyfish’s mouth, anus, and reproductive organ. Once the manurbias are touching, the male jellyfish releases red colored sperm called spermatophore. The male jellyfish stores his sperm into the female jellyfishs tentacles. Once the sperm is stored, the male jellyfish lets go of the female jellyfish.
    After being released the female ingests the male jellyfish’s sperm, this fertilizes the eggs. After a few days, the female jellyfish produces her embryos, and the mating ritual is complete.
    Can anybody find out the survival rate of these jellyfish into adulthood? Any questions about the Carybdea sivickisi?
    Below is a link to my information source.wwwwwwww

    http://invertebrates.si.edu/jellyfish/showtime.html

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