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Totems: Sea Jellies, Part 2

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


Jellyfish are basically tube-shaped, with an opening at one end, and an umbrella-shaped dome referred to as a Medusa. Medusa comes from the Greek virgin goddess in service to Athena, the Goddess of War. She was ravaged by Poseidon, the God of the sea. Why SHE was punished by Athena is a whole other story, but punished she was. Her long, silken hair became a mass of writhing snakes (like tentacles, right?).  Those tentacles have stinging cells throughout, called nematocysts. These radiate downward from the dome’s central mouth. When sensing a fish, the stinging cells propel barbs that shoot into the fish like a bullet, thereby injecting a deadly poison.

Comb jellyfish give off bioluminescent light. In the right light, comb jellies display the electrical currents of rainbow iridescence, rippling through the 8 canals called comb rows, which run the length of their watermelon-shaped bodies. Though comb jellies are also not true jellyfish (As Ctenophores they do not sting), they sure look like them. Both are transparent, mostly water, and are carnivorous. This jelly is basically a swimming mouth that vacuums in prey. Small crustaceans trying to get away from this killing machine flee from its writhing arms, straight into wing-like feeding lobes at either end, becoming entangled. How amazing is it that some crustaceans deposit their young inside the body of comb jellies? At a certain point, the young start to eat the body of the comb jelly. Yes, crustaceans eat jellies and jellies eat crustaceans. Comb jellies also eat other comb jellies, swallowing them whole. Guests or dinner? Let us consider choices thoughtfully, lest we jump from the frying pan into the fire.

Big Red is a jellyfish over 3 feet in diameter, which lives anywhere from 2,000 to 4,800 feet deep in the ocean. Instead of stinging tentacles, it has 4-7 fleshy arms, by which it grabs food. The Lion’s Mane jelly is as wide as 12 feet, with tentacles as long as 100 feet. Moon jellyfish, or Sea nettles are the ones people picture when they think of jellyfish. They’re easily identified by their 4 horseshoe-shaped reproductive organs (males, white/females, pink). They are found in every sea and ocean around the world, and even in some freshwater rivers and lakes. They are not toxic to humans, because their sting does not penetrate skin. The final stage of their elaborate life cycle is to be carried to shore by the tide, crumpled and evaporating in the sun. As they do so, their larva young are shaken loose. Larvae, which had been clinging to lobes below the parent’s mouth, now glide away and attach themselves to the bottom, at the low-tide line, where they reside through the winter, until they begin to shape into tiny saucers or discs, which then detach and swim away.

Cassiopeia is the Upside-Down Jelly. Instead of swimming for the surface, they contract their bodies to hold themselves flat on the bottom of shallow mangrove waters in Florida or the Caribbean. Cassiopeia have microscopic plants living inside their bodies. In return for providing a safe home, carbon dioxide, and waste as food for the plants - the plants in turn, provide food and oxygen for the jellies through photosynthesis.

Deep-Sea Anemones or Flower jellies look like flowers – that is, if you don’t take into account, cell explosions shaped like harpoons, which attach to the flesh of their prey, injecting poison. Anemones attach themselves to the sea bottom with an adhesive foot, staying in the same spot, until food runs out or a predator attacks. And… just when I thought there was some cohesiveness and uniformity in the jellyfish world, along come Salps, a jelly more closely related to humans than other jellies. Salps have a primitive spinal cord early in their life cycle. Then, there’s the Pelagic Sea Cucumber, flip-flopping through time as bilaterally symmetrical, and then later, as radially symmetrical … and … wait for it … still later, back to being bilaterally symmetrical sea cucumbers … and now … once again, they have transformed into the radially symmetrical echinoderm that floats ethereally through the oceans. Here we have a perfect example of how I had to embody the “don’t struggle or work so hard” aspect of Jelly Medicine, while trying to get all this research straight. Trust, that it would all come together was essential.

Leatherback turtles, the largest turtle on the planet weighing in at 1,000-2,000 pounds eat jellyfish exclusively. At around the same weight, so does the Ocean Sunfish. Loggerheads, Pacific-dwelling greens, Hawksbills, Kemp’s Ridleys and Olive Ridleys eat jellyfish every now and then. So, how do they do that, without dying from venom? Sea turtles have a spiny throat adaptation. Hundreds of spines winding down long esophaguses, and razored mouths help the turtle hold and shred its prey. Other jelly predators include tuna, shark, swordfish, and at least one species of Pacific salmon. A little blue sea slug or Nudibranch eats man o’ war tentacles without being harmed, and can move the stinging parts into its own body, to use. Jellies also prey on one another. This power animal urges us to be honest and transparent in our dealings with others, particularly in financial matters, and in personal relationships – or else feel the sting! Those with a sharp tongue must be careful not to hurt others with their comments or barbs. Be kind and sensitive to others, and perhaps you will receive the same sensitivity toward your emotions.

JELLIES IN SPACE: NASA first started sending jellyfish to space aboard the Columbia shuttle back in the early '90s, testing how they might get along in a zero-gravity environment. Interestingly, both humans and jellyfish have specialized gravity-sensitive calcium sulfate crystals located inside the inner ear in humans, and along the bottom edge of the mushroom-like jelly bodies. So studying how jellyfish manage in space can reveal clues about how humans might also fare. Jellyfish calcium crystals are housed in little pockets lined with hair cells. When the jellyfish moves, the crystals roll around, signaling to the brain which way is up, by stimulating those hair cells. The pockets seemed to develop normally in space, but the astronaut jellies later had trouble figuring out how to swim around in normal gravity. They had abnormal pulsing and movement when returned to Earth, compared to non-astronaut jellyfish. So if the jellyfish had trouble developing their gravity senses in space, it's likely human space babies would get major vertigo too.

On Jan 9, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission and New York's attorney general charged the company that makes Prevagen with fraud, for selling a memory supplement originally based on a protein in jellyfish. The company insists tests prove it works.

Sometimes there are so many “smacks” of jellyfish in Japan and Korea that a candy has been made from them. Now, I like salty caramels, but I don’t think I’ll be eating the ones made from jellyfish anytime soon. In Japan, students make them out of sugar, starch syrup and jellyfish powder!  Speaking of Japan, this next jelly lives in Japan:

Okay now, this may be the most amazing thing of all re: Jellyfish’s Medicine: At least one species, Turritopsis dohrnii, may never actually die. When threatened, this species is capable of undergoing "cellular trans-differentiation," a process whereby the organism's cells can essentially become new again, or revert to a younger state. It also puts down roots and clones itself hundreds of times. In other words, this hydrozoan has a built-in fountain of youth. It is theoretically immortal! Okay, admit it. You never really thought much about jellyfish and its cousins, and now I’m telling you they have Immortality Medicine? I know, right! Here’s how I suggest relating to that: when you are feeling, old, tired, or worn down, ask for rejuvenation, and a release from old, aging, and death-inducing thoughts. 

We might need this Immortality Medicine real soon, because of the condition of our oceans. The human appetite for fish is leading to imbalances in delicate ocean ecosystems through overfishing. Fish eat small jellyfish and also compete with them for food such as zooplankton. Without enough fish around, jellyfish are left to multiply exponentially. There are already indications that jellyfish numbers worldwide are rising steeply. Giant Nomura jellyfish, measuring over six feet in length and weighing up to 440 pounds are increasing in oceans around the world, especially Southeast Asia, the Black Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea. The problem is made worse by nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, which causes oxygen-starved dead zones in which fish can’t survive – but jellyfish can. On November 21st, 2007, an invading swarm of billions of Mauve Stingers, 10 square miles, completely wiped out a 100,000-fish salmon farm in Northern Ireland. This was unprecedented.

We know so little about this last unexplored realm, because researchers can only spend short amounts of time in the depths, before needing to resurface. Jellyfish challenge our hubris that having brains makes us masters of the planet. We could be open to an entirely different paradigm. If we respected all life on the planet, their secrets of life would yield themselves to us. Sometimes, we humans think that we, above all others, know best. Instead, we could yoke our brains with our hearts, trusting that a partnership with all of Nature will show us how to live well, and insure the health of all life on our planet.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 40 years; author of this column for 17 years. For Healing for you or your animal, or to buy a print or e-version of Totems for Stewards of the Earth go towww.CieSimurro.com , or send $22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370. Phone: 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com


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