Gem of the Week: Understanding Jellyfish

Walkern/<a href="">Flickr</a>

Each week I highlight one Blue Marble-ish story I think covers an underreported issue, or reveals a new side of an old one. Here’s this week’s.

For many years jellyfish have been thought of as dumb, reflex-based creatures with no hunting strategy who simply drifted where the waves took them. This absorbing piece in the New York Times shows otherwise. Author Natalie Angier culls together new scientific reports with interviews and in-person experiences to explore the jellyfish’s true nature. Especially when paired with a beautifully-shot photo essay, it’s one of those articles that makes you feel like an awestruck kid at the science museum.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Jellyfish are one of the species that have survived mass extinctions, and they show no sign of slowing. Already adaptive and resourceful by nature, global warming has increased their spread. Jellies haven’t thrived as passive predators though: as Angier’s article details, jellies are actually quite complex. Example: the box jellyfish has 24 eyes, of 4 different types. Jellies have “salinity meters” and go out of their way to avoid fresher waters that come in the spring from melted snow. 

Jellyfish are pretty and elegant, so it’s nice to know there’s some brain behind that beauty, or at least a few “neuronal condensations” where nerves act as brain-like structures.