My first visit to the National Aquarium was also a behind-the-scenes tour of the jellyfish room with Jennie Janssen (@JellyJanssen). I was completely mesmerized by the hundreds of jellies in various industrial-sized aquaria. I am frequently mesmerized by jellies, big and small, in an aquarium or under the scope in the lab. And I take a lot of pictures.
I wanted to share some of these photos after reading a wonderful feature in the October issue of Nat Geo about jellies, which featured work by NMNH researchers and fellow jellyfish nerds Cheryl Ames, Allen Collins, Rebecca Helm, and Keith Bayha as well as Jennie. The article covers a large breadth of material , but features beautiful photographs by David Liittschwager.
I have been fortunate to work with a range of species in my career already. Below are a few images of jellyfish currently in my life, as well as a few from the day I spent at the National Aquarium.
Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus is my current organism of study. This is a transplant of new polyps from the beginning of my first year in graduate school.
H. symbiolongicarpus are colonial hydrozoans that produce stolon, a biological substrate for the polyps to attach to the surface of hermit crab shells (or here, glass slides). You can see the stolon as a circle surrounding these hungry polyps.
H. symbiolongicarpus display a division of labor in the colony with functionally specific polyp types. Think of these almost as organs; polyps that play specific biological roles. Here you can see the bulbous female gonozooid to the far left and right, which produces eggs but does not eat or catch food. The stubby gastrozooids (they look like the polyps in the above picture) only eat, and spread that food to the rest of the colony.
Here are male gonozooids and a scale bar for reference.
Another hydrozoan we keep on slides is related to H. symbiolongicarpus, Podocoryne carnea.
Unlike H. symbiolongicarpus which has lost the medusa stage, P. carnea stills buds medusae off the side of the polyp. You can see a group of four attached to one of the rightmost polyps.
Once the buds are farther along the medusa starts fighting for freedom, like these here. Also notice the difference in stolon, which is more patchy than H. symbiolongicarpus.
You may recognize these moon jellies (Aurelia aurita) from the featured photo for this blog! These jellies were my pets my first year at KU.
Not only were they a beautiful reminder of the group of animals I work on, but they made for fantastic specimens to bring to outreach events.
But I admit, one of the most fun parts of owning my own jellies was feeding them. These jellies have just voraciously consumed brine shrimp (sea monkeys) that look like pink dots within the gastric cavity, seen as a clover-shape at the top of the bell.
Right now in the lab we have moon jelly polyps that are undergoing strobilation! This is when the polyps start producing multiple new jellies.
These immature medusa, called ephyra, will eventually be released to become individual mature moon jellies.
Ephyra that have just been released!
The Upside-down jellies at the National Aquarium were gorgeous, and made me fall in love with this species all over again after spending a month working with them at the NMNH.
One of my favorite jellyfish species is the Australian Spotted Jellies (Phyllorhiza punctata), despite being harmful both in Australian waters and as introduced invasives in the Gulf of Mexico.
Finally, my favorite species of the visit, blue blubbers! My goal is to eventually own my own blue blubbers (Catostylus mosaicus), which come in a variety of colors and have a weak sting.
I could watch them all day, and so can you! Check out the Blue Blubber Webcam at the National Aquarium, and try not to look away.