Wildlife of the Week!

© Alexa Desautels. A Crystal Jelly is in focus, lit by aquarium lights, swimming along with others at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea.

Welcome to our almost-New Year Wildlife of the Week! As you may have noticed with our last few features, we definitely have a special spot in our hearts for jellyfish and other invertebrate jellies- they are beautiful and fascinating! Thus, this week we also present a mesmerizing species known commonly as the “Crystal Jelly”. This jellyfish is not a Ctenophore like the Comb jelly, but is not a true jellyfish like the Moon Jelly. You can see the delicate, fine tentacles of this species as it drifts peacefully along with others. What is your favourite species of jelly? Read on below to learn more about the Crystal Jelly! 

The Crystal Jelly is known in science as Aequorea victoria . There are a variety of forms, or subspecies, and debated unique species within  genus Aequorea (which may look very similar to each other). The Crystal Jelly belongs to a Class that translates to the meaning, “water-animals”. The species is delicate in appearance and translucent to transparent, reaching a maximum size of about 3-25.4 cm in diameter (across the round bell). Size is determinant on location found. In Puget Sound, sizes are believed to range from 5-10cm and those in Alaska are recorded around 20cm. 

Around the perimeter of the bell lies tentacles of different sizes, in numbers of up to 150. This jellyfish has a fascinating quality that allows it to appear blue-tinged in response to the animal releasing calcium. It may also appear green. This bioluminescence appears when the animal becomes disturbed; over 100 small organs around the body are responsible for producing this effect. This jelly, as like others, does not have complex body systems or a skeleton, but it does have a mouth and stomach to consume prey. 

The Crystal Jelly is distributed along the West Coast from Vancouver, B.C. to Southern California, however others recognize a range up to the Bering Sea. Habitat-wise, the Crystal Jelly tends to be found along the shoreline or out to sea due to water or wind movements. During the summer on the West Coast, you might witness these jellyfish hovering at the surface. As with other jellyfish, the Crystal Jelly is a large plankton and thus cannot fight the direction of a current. This is why being carried too close to shore can be dangerous for a jelly. The Crystal Jelly is believed to have a higher control of movement than some other jellies, however. 

The Crystal Jellyfish is a predatory creature capable of consuming other jellyfish more than half its own size with an expandable mouth and stomach material equipped with tough enzymes. The tentacles on the jelly are equipped with tiny stinging needles that release toxins to immobilize prey (as like others in the phylum Cnidaria). To humans, this sting can cause slight irritation but can be lethal to smaller prey such as copepods, larvae, appendicularians and other jellies. In tight conditions or with low food sources, the jelly may opt for cannibalism. 

The life history of the Crystal Jelly is dramatic and significant, at least with those studied on the West Coast, with the entire population dying off within the fall every year. Thus, the species lives only about 6 months in the wild, but up to two years in suitable aquariums. When these jellies reproduce, males and females spawn into the water on a very regular basis to produce larvae that will take the role of a hydroid colony settled on hard surfaces. These colonies will produce the immature jellyfish needed for the new generation, having been signaled by environmental conditions to begin this process. 

With recent declines in the Crystal Jellyfish’s size and number in some West Coast areas, questions into the relatively unknown ecology of the colonies have been brought forward to help understand the shift. This species was known to be a dominant surface plankton throughout the West Coast in the past.

The Crystal Jelly is an important food source for larger marine species in the food chain, such as the sunfish. As jellies may reflect a shift in oceanographic qualities, large blooms or congregations may help scientists to understand that a change has occurred in an area.

With observable declines over a 30 year period in areas of Washington, some argue that over-harvest has been the primary cause. This jelly has been commercially collected for laboratory purposes in which its bioluminescent protein, aequorin, and the fluorescent material have been collected for scientific (biological, neurological) research and testing purposes. 

An arguably magical and undeniably interesting creature, we welcome you to try out some trivia below on the Crystal Jelly! 

  1. Small creatures called _____ have been spotted living symbiotically with the Crystal Jelly. (ANS: Amphipods). 
  2. True or False? The animal produces bioluminescence all around its body. (ANS: False. Only the margin does so). 
  3. The protein collected from the Crystal Jelly may help with the identification of _____. (ANS: Genes). 

BONUS CHALLENGE:

The Crystal Jelly is more related to the ____ than it is to the _____ (Possible answers: Comb jelly, Moon Jelly, Anemone). 

Possible combinations:

Moon Jelly, Comb jelly

Anemone, Comb jelly

Moon Jelly, Anemone 

To learn more about this species, check out our References below! 

Article Authored By: Alexa D., B.Sc./ Five Star Whale Watching. 

References: 

“Aequorea Victoria”. BioExpedition. May 14 2012. Aequorea Victoria (bioexpedition.com)

“Cnidaria- Scyphozoa (true jellyfish).” Marine Education Society of Australasia. Cnidaria (mesa.edu.au)

“Crystal Jelly “Aequorea Victoria””. Crystal Jelly “Aequorea victoria” – Home (weebly.com)

“Crystal Jelly”. Monterey Bay Aquarium. Crystal jelly | Animals | Monterey Bay Aquarium
Mills, C.E. “Biolumi

Mills, C.E. “Bioluminescence of Aequorea, a hydromedusa”. 1999-present, last updated 11 Jan 2009. http://faculty.washington.edu/cemills/Aequorea.html