Jelly blobs on the beach are a travesty,
like this one I found recently among wave-tossed seagrasses on Del Monte Beach. Lifeless on the sand, such jellies are void of their pulsating grace, intricate structures and delicate colors. Yet I always watch for them. For a beachwalker, they’re a window into what’s beyond the waves. This new jelly species (for me) is Scrippsia pacifica, or the
giant bell jelly.
The jelly’s bell can grow to 4 inches (10 cm) long, about the size of this one. The purplish-red dots you see are ocelli (simple eyes!). Missing were the bell’s frilly lips and its more than 200 trailing tentacles. Not too much is known about this secretive species. Their tentacles carry nematocysts (stinging cells) and it’s an active predator, but I couldn’t find much detail on how it feeds. Related species (Polyorchis spp.) swim toward the surface and then sink, collecting plankton as they drop. They may also rest on or near the bottom and collect tiny animals with the stinging tentacles. The life cycle is also a mystery. Scrippsia is known from only the medusa (bell) life phase and not its polyp or larval stages (there’s a research project).
This jelly’s lovely scientific name was provided in 1909 by Harry Beal Torrey (1873 – 1970). He was a zoologist and a medical doctor working for a while at the Marine Biological Association of San Diego. During his long life, he published quite extensively on Coelenterata, the animal group at the time that included comb jellies along with true jellies and their relatives (these days that group is two phyla: Ctenophora and Cnidaria). He spent much of his later career in Berkeley and Oakland working in public health, even spending time as the director of Children’s Hospital of East Bay (he had a diverse career).
My picture certainly doesn’t do this giant bell jelly justice. For a full-figure shot and to learn more, visit The JelliesZone, or follow one drifting through a kelp forest off San Diego in this short YouTube video. And, next time you find a jelly blob on the beach, look to the water and think about the real life of the amazing creature at your feet and how little we know about so many.