An aquarist transfers tiny ephyrae (baby jellies) as they outgrow their container using a pipette.
Most people recognize our moon jellies as undulating bells, often backlit in soothing pinks and purples as ethereal music plays in a round room that seems to have the ability to stop time.
You’ll stare at them, entranced, for hours… But would you touch one if you could? Or are their tentacled bodies odd enough for you to keep them at an arms length?
For the first time, you’ll be able to touch our moon jellies in a new special exhibit, “Jiggle A Jelly.” Along with the moon jellies in our Jellyfish Encounter exhibit and in the displays in the Marine Care and Culture Lab, the new open display will let our visitors get hands-on with some of our most popular animals.
To make the exhibit possible, we needed more moon jellies. Lots of them. But have you ever wondered where they all come from?
Moon jellies are seasonal creatures, found in Long Island Sound in the summer months, so we couldn’t just go out in January, catch a bunch of them and place them on exhibit. What’s that old saying? If you can’t catch them, grow them! (OK, we might be taking some poetic license with that one…)
Here at the Aquarium, we grow our own jellies! Not only do we breed moon jellies, but you also can find Atlantic sea nettles, upside-down jellies and lion’s mane jellies growing in the culture lab. Many of them end up on exhibit in the Jellyfish Encounter space.
So, how do you grow a moon jelly?
In the Marine Care & Culture Lab, there are several containers that hold the moon jellies as they grow through their life stages: as polyps, ephyrae and adult medusas. As they grow, they are moved to their new containers.
In the culture lab, an aquarist uses a small pipette to transfer the tiny jellies from one container to another, monitoring their growth closely and adjusting their food and water current levels based on their size.
Once they outgrow the containers, they’re moved to the larger “grow-out” tank and then onto exhibit.
In fact, we’ve become so good at growing jellies, we supply them to other aquariums!
The life cycle of a moon jelly.
Where do (jelly) babies come from?
In their early stage as polyps, moon jellies attach themselves to a hard surface, like a shell or a rock. Once the polyp begins to grow, it starts to bud new polyps and forms a colony. Polyps in the colony form stacks and each layer is a “baby” called an ephyra. (Think: like of a stack of Pringles.)
Our aquarists prompt the polyps to form stacks by manipulating the variables in their environment. Altering the water’s salinity or temperature triggers ephyra production.
Once the ephryae form and mature, they release themselves from the polyp. All ephyrae released from a single polyp are clones of each other. Sometimes, a colony of polyps can release all of their ephyrae at the exact same time.
Colony of moon jelly polyps.
Polyps can live for about 20 years, and the same polyps that the Aquarium began breeding moon jellies with when they first arrived are still releasing ephyrae today!
The ephyrae resemble, but don’t look exactly like, adult moon jellies, which are known as medusas. Instead, they are more star-shaped and grooved-looking. Their “jelly” hasn’t filled in. As they eat and grow into the medusa stage, they lose that star-like shape and develop into the full familiar bell shape.
Once they outgrow their containers, the medusas are moved to the “grow-out” tank, which is also in our culture lab. They continue to grow until they reach about three inches in diameter, the milestone they must reach before making it to the exhibit. They can end up being up to a foot wide when fully grown.
Want to learn more about our “Jiggle a Jelly” exhibit? Get more information here.
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