A rare jellyfish has quietly been eating other jellies at the Cape Town Aquarium, much to the excitement of the resident jelly scientist
- A scientist at the Two Oceans accidentally found a stowaway jellyfish was quietly eating the other jellies in its tank.
- It turned out to be a rare pink meanie jellyfish, so rare it has yet to be formally described and given a scientific name.
- It stands out from other ‘cousins’ because it is found in cold water.
When Two Oceans Aquarium resident researcher Krish Lewis left work on a Friday evening, he left behind him a tank of innocently floating jellyfish. They were part of a new colony, freshly caught from about a month ago in the waters around Robben Island, destined for the display tanks of the Two Oceans Aquarium.
Little did he know he'd arrive back to work on Monday to find a brutal scene of murder - a killer was hidden among them.
“When I left to go home for the weekend, I left a tank that was filled with nightlight jellies. And when I came back on Monday to clean the tank, I discovered there were no more nightlife jellyfish in the tank. They were all gone…except for this tiny little jellyfish,” said Lewis.
It was at this moment that Lewis got very excited. It could only mean one thing - a pink meanie jellyfish. Sure enough, hidden among the dead oral arms of the jellyfish, was the stowaway. Within a few days it had grown up and started to prey on its unsuspecting tank mates.
It is only the second time in the Aquarium's history the jellyfish has been encountered. The first was in 2017, also found by accident - eating jellies in the Aquarium.
The local jelly is so rare it has yet to be formally described and given a scientific name. Like its name suggests, it is both pink and incredibly efficient at slaughtering other jellyfish in one foul swoop.
It stands out from other ‘cousin’ pink meanies because it is the only one found in cold water – all its other cousins, identified under the name Drymonema, have been discovered in warm waters like the Mexican coast and the Mediterranean.
Scientists say the pink meanie is at the top of the jelly food chain. They’re jellyvorous, meaning they feed on other jelly species. They kill by reeling their prey in with their long tentacles and can digest a jelly within just two to three hours.
They are also voracious eaters and have been known to eat many jellies in one sitting. Hence it appears when other species of jelly bloom in large volumes. Its Mexican cousins for instance, have been seen consuming up to 34 other jellies at once.
By observing the pink meanie in the Aquarium, Lewis is trying to deduce their growth rate, which can grow metres in length in a matter of days. They also know that what it eats affects how fast it grows, so the more food is out there the larger it will get and it only eats other jellyfish.
“It’s growing really fast. It started off at the size of a pinky nail and within a few weeks it’s now too big for the tank. We’re going to have to move it to another tank,” said Lewis.
Sightings of the pink meanie are few and far between says Lewis. But ,there have been more recently as interest in this rare jellyfish grows. One was recently sighted by Cape Town local and free diver Lisa Beasley, who found a pink meanie in False Bay.
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Its almost impossible to think of something so pretty and so pink as The Pink Meanie. This rare jelly is jellyvorous - meaning it eats other true jellies by pulling them in with its long tentacles - hence its name. I spent most of the dive with this remarkable creature, taking pictures and watching its mesmerizing pulsating swimming. It's incredible to think that this creature, that looks so soft and vulnerable, being pushed around by the surge into kelp, is one of the most successful biological designs on the planet - having been around longer than any other multi-oraganed creature alive today. . . . #jellyfish #coldwaterfreediving #thegreatafricanseaforest #capetown #underwater
With more findings, Lewis hopes they can begin to complete the puzzle of where and how this elusive jelly fits into our offshore ecosystem.
The pink meanie is now officially on display at the Two Oceans Aquarium in the Jelly Gallery near the I&J Ocean Exhibit.
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