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Spotted comb jelly

What's New

Raising the 'Beautiful Sea Goddess'

Spotted comb jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Unearthly, transparent and beautiful—and exceedingly delicate. The spotted comb jelly is so fragile, just waving your hand through the water could destroy it.

For the first time anywhere, our intrepid jelly team has cultured this shimmering creature, described as "barely organized water" due to its fragility, and put it on exhibit. It's the latest advance in comb jelly science and another notable innovation from the Aquarium's jelly team.

The species, known scientifically as Leucothea pulchra (Latin for "beautiful sea goddess"), can grow from 12 to 18 inches long, says Senior Aquarist Wyatt Patry, who led the culturing effort. They're ctenophores, and not true jellyfish, he notes.

Marine scientists have long been fascinated not only with the spotted comb jelly's otherworldly looks, but also with its complex feeding and propulsion behaviors. Like all comb jellies, it generates flashing patterns of rainbow light as white light passes through the hairlike ctene-rows that help it move through the water.

It's the only comb jelly to travel using jet propulsion and the only one that can "fly" underwater. It can curl its oral lobes and squirt water between them at very high velocity. It can also slowly flap the lobes, producing power strokes to generate forward motion.
It can gather food in three distinct ways: moving through the water with its large oral lobes open to funnel food inside, waving four whip-like auricles to capture and manipulate prey, and trailing two tentacles like fishing lines.
Spotted comb jellies range from Baja California north to British Columbia. But seeing them in an aquarium is a rare treat because their extreme fragility makes handling them a dicey proposition.
To protect the easily broken beauties from perturbations, Wyatt says members of the team "have to move like a sloth" during daily maintenance. Just wiping down the inside of their holding tanks requires the slowest of motions; a task that would otherwise take only a couple of minutes requires 20.
Our jelly team was the first-ever to decipher the comb jelly lifecycle in 2016, before moving on to culture and exhibit several comb jelly species.
That experience primed them to culture this superstar when we collected wild spotted comb jellies in Monterey Bay in December. We placed them in a six-foot-tall acrylic tube we designed specifically for ctenophore culture, and our jelly wizards worked their magic. In a few months, dozens were jetting about and ready for their share of the spotlight.

More What's New

Sunburst diving beetle at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Nature's Scuba Divers

Teeny, tiny scuba divers are on exhibit in ¡Viva Baja! Life on the Edge—sunburst diving beetles (Thermonectus marmoratus).

These colorful arthropods are air breathers, but spend most of their lives under water, thanks to a special ability.

"They carry an air bubble with them like a scuba tank," says Senior Aquarist Todd Love.

At the water's surface, a beetle gathers a bubble under its wing cases that rises when it dives. The bubble, which functions sort of like a fish's gill, extracts oxygen from the surrounding water, which is then available to the beetle.

Sunburst diving beetles are efficient swimmers, thanks to their streamlined bodies and oar-like legs that they kick simultaneously. Despite being only a half-inch long, they're voracious predators from the start.
Their larvae are known as "water tigers," Todd says, for how quickly they pounce on prey. Both larvae and adults use powerful mandibles to tear up their food, primarily mosquito larvae, but also other small aquatic animals.
Todd's raising these active insects behind the scenes as they go through three stages or molts—eggs, larvae and pupae—before becoming adults. Their golden spots appear as adults, and warn predators that the beetles taste bad.
In the wild, sunburst diving beetles live in ponds and lakes from California south to Mexico and west to Arizona, Nevada and Texas. They require at least a temporary water source, so if one dries up, they may fly off in search of another.
The species recently gained attention when biologists discovered that, in its larval stage, it uses two retinas and two distinct focal planes that are separated—like bifocals—to switch its vision from up-close to distant. It's the first-ever recorded use of bifocal vision in the animal world.

Hammerhead shark at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

It's Hammerhead Time!

We're welcoming back scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) to the Open Sea exhibit. The female sharks are between one and two years old. We waited until they grew to about three feet long before transporting them from Kaneohe, Hawaii to our off-site Animal Research and Care Center (ARCC). Over 11 months we fed, trained and observed them as they grew large enough to place on exhibit.

"Since we received them at a small size, they would have had to compete with much larger and faster animals if we put them directly into the Open Sea exhibit," says Ann Greening, senior aquarist and the lead on our elasmobranch (sharks, rays and skates) team. "Holding them at the ARCC allows us to acclimate and grow them to a larger size, get them used to divers, and train them to come to a target at a feeding station, which is key to their success in eating in a large community exhibit."

When they first arrived, we just tossed food into the water and let the young hammerheads forage, Ann adds. We gradually shifted to scheduled feedings at a target station using long pole tongs, which is how they're fed in the Open Sea. We cut their food into small pieces since they have very small mouths. They also receive a shark vitamin to make sure they get all the nutrients they need for optimal health.
While we love sharks in general, we are particularly fond of scalloped hammerheads because, as Ann says, "What's not cool about a shark with a head shaped like a hammer?" The unmistakable, elongated head is believed to help this shark track its prey, possibly by improving its sensory perception. The adaptation appears to increase agility and maneuverability over that of other shark species. Unlike the great hammerhead, scalloped hammerheads school in the open ocean in a beautiful, almost choreographed way.
We can share these wonderful sharks with members and visitors thanks to your support of our exhibit and animal care programs. Thank you.