Home / Science / These Jellyfish Don’t Need Tentacles to Deliver a Toxic Sting | Science

These Jellyfish Don’t Need Tentacles to Deliver a Toxic Sting | Science

These Jellyfish Don’t Need Tentacles to Deliver a Toxic Sting |
Science

A mysterious burning, itchy sensation after a swim is normally the telltale signal of a jellyfish sting.

But in coastal mangroves and different subtropical ecosystems, snorklers and swimmers have lengthy reported a related sensation with out ever coming in touch with a jellyfish. A phenomenon referred to as “stinging water” is to blame, however the trigger is unknown.

One potential offender is a sort of jellyfish belonging to the genus Cassiopea referred to as the upside-down jellyfish, however they’re lacking a key appendage usually mandatory to deal a stinging blow: spaghetti-like tentacles.

Instead of a gelatinous, umbrella-shaped physique with lengthy, swaying tentacles undulating beneath because it floats via the water, Cassiopea obtained its widespread title for being the precise reverse. The gentle, round physique, often called the medusa, rests on the seafloor whereas simply a few brief, tentacles float above them. Cassiopea are recognized to get the majority of their power via their symbiotic relationship with the photosynthetic algae Symbiodinium that lives inside their physique.

But how may the upside-down jellyfish sting one thing with out ever coming in direct contact with their victims? These unassuming invertebrates are recognized to unleash plumes of mucus into the water, and although the slime was definitely a suspected explanation for the irritation, scientists had by no means researched what components of the slime may lead to ache earlier than.

In a paper revealed immediately in Nature Communications Biology, researchers discovered that the mucus is laced with poisonous bubble-like tissues coated in the identical stinging cells that trigger the long-lasting jellyfish itch.

Study coauthor Allen Collins, a NOAA invertebrate zoologist, is not any stranger to this stinging sensation. While finishing subject work on the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, Collins fell sufferer to the so-called “stinging water” whereas dealing with the upside-down jellyfish.

“I picked up quite a bunch of them and brought them back to the lab,” Collins says. “Even though I had gloves on I was very soon uncomfortable where my skin was exposed, around my neck and my face.”

Collins has lengthy shared his expertise as a cautionary story for college kids when introducing them to upside-down jellyfishes reared within the Department of Invertebrate Zoology at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. One of these college students is first writer of the examine Cheryl Ames, now a marine biologist at Tohoku University in Japan who began this analysis whereas she was a Ph.D. researcher working with Collins at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Ames and a number of other different researchers determined to view on the mucus beneath a microscope once they couldn’t discover the stinging sensation related to the slime in scientific literature. Upon nearer look, they discovered that the plumes expelled by the upside-down jellyfish are loaded with tiny spheres encased in nematocysts, that are the identical stinging cells jellyfish are historically recognized for.

“They’re roughly ovular, shaped like asteroids with little bumps on them,” Collins describes. “And on those bumps are where the stinging capsules are concentrated.”




The oval structures along the protruding edges are stinging capsules known as nematocysts, and the brown cells in the interior are symbiotic algae that live within the tissues of Cassiopea.

The oval constructions alongside the protruding edges are stinging capsules often called nematocysts, and the brown cells within the inside are symbiotic algae that stay inside the tissues of Cassiopea.

(Cheryl Ames, Anna Klompen)

Dubbed cassiosomes by the crew, the capsules are coated in tremendous, hair-like constructions often called cilia. The cilia permit the complete cassiosome to gyrate and spiral inside the mucus. In a laboratory experiment, researchers discovered that the cassiosomes are able to incapacitating brine shrimp, offering proof that the jellyfish launch cassiosomes to stun prey earlier than consuming them.

Cassiopea species have been recognized since 1775, and their mucus spewing conduct is well-described. At first, Collins thought for positive the analysis had already been accomplished.

“I had always assumed that it was well explained somewhere in the literature and that we just hadn’t come across it yet,” Collins says. “When we started going into the literature, we didn’t find anything other than a couple brief asides. No one had worked this out in detail.”

The phenomenon of stinging water will not be a new discovering, however the discovery of the supply is actually priceless, explains Leslie Babonis, a researcher on the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience.

“Think about how crazy this is – it’s energetically costly for animals to produce new cells and tissues and the upside-down jellies are just dumping huge masses of these things into the water column to deter passers-by,” says Babonis, who was not concerned on this examine.

This crew of researchers have uncovered a wholly unknown mechanism of stings, as cassiosomes have since been present in different associated jellyfish species and could possibly be much more widespread.




Cassiopea, or upside-down jellyfish, on display at the National Aquarium.

Cassiopea, or upside-down jellyfish, on show on the National Aquarium.

(National Aquarium)

Oddly sufficient, nonetheless, the crew additionally discovered that the cassiosomes are hole and full of the identical photosynthetic, symbiotic algae the stay freely of their our bodies. Because expelling mucus is so energetically pricey, Collins speculates that the Symbiodinium may present power to the cassiosomes as effectively. In the lab, cassiosomes may survive in seawater for at the very least ten days. Why the mechanism exists stays unknown, however Collins hypothesizes about a few potentialities.

One could possibly be that cassiosomes assist to disperse Symbiodinium, which is useful each for the algae and the jellyfish. Cassiopea can take up the algae from the water, which is critical for growth.

“We know there’s a actually tight symbiosis there,” Collins says. “They can’t produce a medusa until they’ve Symbiodinium of their tissues. Cassiosomes could also be a means for the algae to get out and get round.”




Representation of a cassiosome, including its cross section.

Representation of a cassiosome, together with its cross part.

(Nick Bezio)

Understanding this symbiotic relationship definitely curiosity biologists, however explaining “stinging water” and higher understanding how marine creatures produce and disperse venomous goo might have even have wide-ranging impacts for human well being. Because Cassiopeia is already acknowledged as a mannequin organism, which means the species is utilized in laboratory research to higher perceive organic processes, this examine may lead to thrilling new discoveries about different jellyfish species as effectively.

For now, the researchers—and possibly a lot of snorkelers and swimmers—are glad the “stinging water” thriller has been solved.

Hannah Knigton is an intern with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Ocean Portal.

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