How Do I Not Know This #1: Janthina’s Violet Liquid

The news is terrible. I find myself picking up my phone and clicking the “News” ap on my phone every hour, twice an hour, three times. I’ve read all the stuff about dopamine hits from clicking and I get it. It’s an addiction. Plus, like I said, the news is bad so the clicking and the ugly just feeds on itself. I’ve known I’ve needed to get out of the cycle for a while, and lo and behold, I think I found a way over Thanksgiving break. I was visiting my parents, who live in St. Louis, and they have something we don’t have in Texas or when I lived in California either: a basement. And the great thing about basements is that things accumulate there in the way they just don’t seem to as much in attics. Maybe it’s because you don’t have to […]

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On Protocooperation

I’ve been getting Google alerts on the word “jellyfish” since 2010. For eight years a daily roundup of jellyfish news from across the web has been rolling across my inbox in the mid-afternoon. I’ve seen most of the stories several times. I’ve seen giant jellyfish drifting near video cameras on oilrig platforms that are mistaken for whale placentas. They turn out to be really strange and stunning jellyfish called Deepstaria. I’ve seen Michiganders and Missourians surprised August after August when the freshwater jellyfish Craspedacuspa pops into medusa form in nearby lakes. But back in July, I saw something I’d never seen before. In a video taken off the Italian island of Pantelleria half way between Sicily and Tunisia, the camera pans in on a vertical field of dandelion yellow cup corals on a rocky green wall. The corals have long, eyelashes of tentacles that sway gracefully […]

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Jellyfish Far and Wide

I’m pinching myself. SPINELESS is out in the world, and it’s been getting some incredible coverage. I’m going to give a rundown here, because each one of these shout-outs about jellyfish and our oceans’ health means so much to me. And what’s more, the variety of places where SPINELESS is showing up is beyond my wildest dreams. I want to give an enormous thank you to my incomparable publicist Glory Anne Plata at Riverhead, who spread the news of SPINELESS far and wide. Back in August, Publisher’s Weekly gave SPINELESS a starred review! And then, they also put it on the list of “Fall’s Most Anticipated Books.” Right next to Oliver Sacks! And I was so delighted when Kirkus Reviews–a magazine I get at home and read enviously (because I have wanted to be an author for so long)–published a truly beautiful write up. UPDATE: And then […]

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SPINELESS!

There’s the cover! And wow, could it be any more beautiful? The stunning colors and elegant layout came from my publisher Riverhead books and the jellyfish drawings are by Ernst Haeckel, an Austrian naturalist/jellyfish expert/philosopher/physician/artist who lived in the late 1800s. If you haven’t ever seen Haeckel’s book of drawings called Kunstformen der Natur, or Art Forms of Nature, take a look. It’s one of those works that will stick with you for a long time. You might even start to see his drawings on Etsy products and in random gift shops because they are still so inspiring. Haeckel had the incredible ability to render the most unnoticed creatures on our planet in exquisite grandeur. But despite his inimitable faculty with the drawing pen, Haeckel did have his flaws. Toward the end of his life, he was criticized by the science community for his staunch ideas […]

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#SciComm!

While I was in the Netherlands earlier this month, the Naturalis Newsroom was gracious enough to feature me in not just one, but two episodes. The first was the subject of last week’s blog and the second was about science communication. That science communication, #scicomm, has become a thing worthy of a video about makes me simultaneously delighted and concerned, as I revealed quite expressively in the video: #armflop. Watch below to see who my #scicommhero is–and let me know yours! On the topic of science communication, if you are a #scicomm professional in the southern U.S. I want to take this opportunity to invite you to a meet up! Other parts of the country have regional science communicator chapters, but in the South we have never connected with each other. And strengthening bonds among science communicators in this part of the country is more important […]

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The Curious Case of the Jellyfish Curator

I’m just back from the Netherlands, where bikes rule the road but canals force all the roads to meander and curve so you are never quite sure where you’re headed. I was lucky enough to have the chance to give a talk about jellyfish at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, one of the oldest natural history museums in Europe and home to a collection an astonishing 42 million strong. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for all the items stored in the collection and the amazing people who work on them, all the collections are closed until 2018 for a big remodel. But I was able to hunt in the electronic archives and found out that the holotype (the specimen that defines a species) of the nomadic jellyfish (Rhopilema nomadica) that I swam through in Israel is deposited there. I also had a chance to tour the Naturalis’ extensive botanical collection–about three-quarters of a million […]

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Invertebrate Intermission

It’s been a while since I posted here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy with the jellies. Starting around Christmas, I went through an intense fact-checking/end-noting process with Spineless. I found that I could get through about a five pages a day–and the book is around 300 pages long. It was butt-in-the-chair, back-aching kind of work, rereading all the journal articles I’d used; relistening to all the interviews I’d recorded; pouring through my ugly handwritten notebooks; and double checking with experts. Thankfully, I had help. A fabulous jellyfish scientist I met along the way read the entire book and gave me corrections on the science side. And I hired an independent fact-checker to double check all my work. I also worked with some super talented copy editors at Riverhead Books who found a few errors that slipped through all of that. But, it’s all done! I’m expecting the galleys (a pre-print hard […]

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Fried Eggs in Spain

Two weeks ago, I joined 220 scientists from every continent except Antarctica for five days of jam-packed gelatinous joy in Barcelona. The Jellyfish Blooms Symposium started fifteen years ago with just a few dozen or so scientists gathering in Alabama. But as many of the original conveners pointed out, both attendance and interest have bloomed over the years, not unlike the phenomenon which the meeting explores. There were so many outstanding talks and so many gems of information that I won’t be able to cram them all into my book so I’ll be covering as many of them here as I can. And to start, this blog is going to focus on just one species: the fried egg jellyfish (Cotylorhiza tuberculata), which I’m Vanna Whiting in the picture. The yolkish dome and whitish rim that make up its bell are the reason for the animal’s culinary name. And this colorful creature is common […]

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Bad-Ass Comb Jellies

Jellyfish biologists gathered at a meeting called Ctenopalooza in Florida a couple weeks ago, and dumped some big news on the jellyfish world. And in the words of my 11-year old daughter, it left me thinking, “What the poop?” Back when I first learned about comb jellies in the 80’s they were lumped together with your standard jellyfish in a big group called the coelenterates, which roughly translates to hole inside. Both these types of animals were thought to have a single hole to their bellies, which they used to bring food in and excrete waste out. Through the years, comb jellies were cleanly severed from jellyfish on the tree of life for lots of reasons. Their microscopic weaponry is really different. Their reproduction is different. Their muscle and nervous systems are very different. Their DNA is dissimilar. And their digestion is too. As reported in Science, at Ctenopalooza researcher William Browne of the University of […]

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Little Jellies and Big News

Last year, I wrote about the world’s biggest animals – and jellies topped the charts. Now, we know jellyfish dominate the opposite end of the animal spectrum too. A jellyfish was just declared the smallest animal in the world. These minute beings were so problematic when they were first discovered living embedded in the tissues of fish, taxonomists of the 1880’s scratched their heads and named them for how mixed up they felt. The myxozoa were strange little parasites, just a few cells in size. Perhaps, like many parasites, they were protozoans like amoebas. Peering closer, scientists noticed something exceptional. One of the few myxozoan cells is cyst that can expel (or fire?) its contents, maybe used to fasten the parasite to the host’s body. The reminded the scientists of something they’d seen before: a jellyfish stinging cell. In the 1930’s, Robert Weil, an expert on jellyfish stinging cells, examined the myxozoan cysts and said they must belong […]

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