Florida Sea Grant Extension in Collier County

Welcome to the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Blog

This blog is an opportunity for me to share with you my extension outreach efforts and useful information to make you a more informed coastal citizen. If you have any questions about what you see, feel free to contact me at fluech@ufl.edu.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Misunderstood Comb Jelly

Perhaps one of the most misidentified and misunderstood critters commonly found in Florida coastal waters is the comb jelly. While these gelatinous marine animals may look similar to jellyfish, they actually are not related at all to their stinging counterparts. Jellyfish (these days also known as "sea jellies" since they are not really fish) along with corals and anenomoes belong to the phylum Cnidaria (Nih-dar-e-uh). These animals are  characterized by the presence of stinging cells called nematocysts. Comb jellies, on the other hand belong to the phylum Ctenophora (Teen-a-for-a).
They have transparent, jelly-like bodies with bright, iridescent bands of color. The bands are made up of tiny hairs called combs, which divide the body into eight symmetrical areas. These "combs" help the animal swim by beating rhythmically and propelling it forward.  Unlike true jellyfish who use their stinging cells to stun and capture prey, comb jellies draw in prey (mostly planktonic organisms) by pumping water through their body cavity.

So what does this mean to the common beachgoer? Comb Jellies are HARMLESS!! Now that you know they can't harm you, feel free to examine them up close. Keep in mind though, that they do easily break apart when taken out of the water. One of the best ways to examine them up close is to put them in a clear container so that you can view them whole. This also allows you to see the beautiful irridescent colors associated with their beating combs. Many species of comb jellies are also biolunenescent, which means they can produce their own light. They often emit a soft glowing color which can easily be seen at night time!
comb jellies are commonly found along Florida's coastal and marine waters. Pick one up!

Want to learn more?

Image credit: NOAA

Additional Resources
Rhode Island Sea Grant Fact Sheet on Jellyfish

Chesapeake Bay Field Guide

NOAA Ocean Explorers- "Surprises from Comb Jellies in the Arctic"

University of Californial Museum of Palentology-Introduction to Ctenophora