Wading in the icy waters of Maine’s Penobscot Bay one summer day, I spotted transparent creatures near the surface rippling with rainbow bands of light. I thought I was seeing things until a scientist friend told me that these thumb-long, otherworldly critters are called comb jellies. He explained that their namesake “combs” — rows of cilia that they use to swim — refract light into the colors of the rainbow. Unlike their distant cousins the sea jellies (aka jellyfish), comb jellies don’t sting!
These ancient creatures are as bizarre as they are beautiful. Comb jellies are both moms and dads–they can lay and fertilize their own eggs! Scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium have only recently figured out how to raise comb jellies in captivity. One secret: a 24/7 supply of fresh, juicy fish larvae!
While the comb jelly’s rainbow glow only happens when light strikes its combs, many species also produce bioluminescence.
Teachers – check out The Aquarium of the Pacific’s comb jelly page, and then share the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s video the “Lovely Lobed Comb Jelly” posted here. It makes me want to write a poem!
Scientists are debating whether comb jellies branched off from the Tree of Life before sponges, which have been long thought to be the most ancient animal on Earth at more than 600 million years old. Learn more about these strange and ancient creatures in Extreme Survivors: Animals That Time Forgot.