Playing Lotto in the Sea

When I was in grad school, my advisor took a sabbatical and then a few leaves of absence to work at the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO, in Rome. I visited often and I fell in love with the country, it’s food, and energy, and left a small piece of my heart there, where it’s remained for the last 19 years. When my husband Keith told me he had a business trip that would take him to Rome this month, I decided I should go along, and see how my heart was doing. I justified the trip by wrangling an interview with one of the most well-known jellyfish scientists in Italy, Fernando Boero. During the first months of my jellyfish research, I ran across a paper Boero wrote called, “Gelatinous plankton: irregularities rule the world (sometimes),” which made chuckle. Turns out Boero has a penchant for provoking titles (and […]

Continue reading

It’s All About That Base

No, not the bass that Meghan Trainor’s been singing about so infectiously all summer. It’s all about the base of the animal tree of life. This month’s science news is full of stories from the deep past, which means we know a bit more about the murky ancient world of jellies. A group of researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered a 560 million year old fossil in a cave Newfoundland, Canada. Like the few known fossils from that time, it’s soft bodied. Unlike any other fossil of that age, parallel rows run through the stone like rake-lines in the sand. These are the oldest muscles we’ve ever found: they predate the previous record-holder by 100 million years. And we are pretty sure they belonged to a type of jellyfish. Scientists named the brawny creature Haootia quadriformis. Haoot comes from the language of the indigenous people of Newfoundland meaning […]

Continue reading

On the Beach in Qingdao: Face-kinis and Giant Jellies

One thing I love about my jellyfish work is the twisty path research often follows, a path that often ends in a place I could have never predicted. Last week my jellyfish Google alert, which notifies me of articles with the word “jellyfish” every afternoon, sent me to a story in the Huffington Post on a new trend for women in the Chinese resort town of Qingdao. It’s sure to catch on with fashion-conscious bank robbers: the face-kini. These masks made from neon swimsuit material are meant to preserve the fair skin that’s said to be a sign of beauty, and a signal you haven’t spent days working the fields. But they come with one other benefit too, according to the article. They protect against jellyfish stings. Just how bad are the jellies in China? Getting worse. A 2010 paper in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, reported over 2,000 […]

Continue reading

Rethinking Mother Earth at the Arcade

The prize store at the Main Event, a family fun center in a strip mall in north Austin, sucks. And I know I’m not just an aged-out mom on this count. My kids hate it too. They just don’t realize they hate it. My daughter is stuck deciding if she wants to spend her prize tickets on the cheap, sparkly headband that leaves her with 10 tickets and not get the Sour Patch Kids candy. Because those cost 20 tickets. Or she can get seven packets of Sour Patch Kids candy, and no headband. She knows the headband will break soon. But it’s so sparkly. Yet, the candy is so good and sour and I won’t buy it for her. So the place sucks. And it requires much walking in circles evaluating choices. Adding, subtracting, agonizing, eventually tears. By the time the tears come, I’m so overstimulated from […]

Continue reading

Jellyfish Spawn

Years ago I visited the Aeolian Islands, the tiny chain that looks like dirt flinging off the the Italian boot after it’s just kicked Sicily.  I remember blue seas, incredible calimari, stony beaches, and being simultaneously terrified and thrilled to see ash tossed from an active volcano on the island of Stromboli. This week footage from the seas around the archipelago is making jelly news. Spear fisherman Dario Lopes was out on a dive off the island of Lipari, when he became part of what is unquestionably the biggest orgy he’ll ever experience. He swam headlong into thousands of violet and golden jellyfish getting it on. The jellyfish in this genus, Pelagia, take their name, which means open ocean, from their atypical life history. The majority of jellyfish release eggs and sperm into the water column where they meet and form larvae, which settle on to a hard surface and become an anemone-like polyps. Later, much after the medusa are […]

Continue reading

Mysterious Technicolor Jellies

It’s been a colorful week in new jelly species. News media in Australia has been abuzz with stories of a crayon-purple jellyfish that’s been washing up on beaches from the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane to Port Macquarie, half way to Sydney. The peculiar jelly has a bell about the size of a dinner plate and thin mouth-arms that stretch three feet. These idiosyncratic appendages make Lisa-ann Gershwin, one of Australia’s most prominent taxonomists, think it could be a new species in the genus Thysanostoma. But the coloring is curious, she says, most members have a brownish ombre. On the other side of the world, researchers from Italy have ID’ed a golden jellyfish as Pelagia benovici, which means it’s the only cousin of the mauve stinger that’s plagued French and Spanish coasts, as well as decimated salmon farms in Ireland. Last winter, this animal bloomed profusely near Venice, with thousands at a time pulled up in fishermen’s […]

Continue reading