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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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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JPF: Jellyfish Protection Factor

Although I have been working on Spineless for four years, I never really had a meaningful jellyfish sting. This was something that I felt weirdly ashamed of, especially when so many people I talk to about jellyfish tell me of their blistering run-ins and my daily Google newsfeed on jellyfish often brings me disturbing sting stories. How could I write authoritatively about stings having never had one? But this summer swimming in a huge bloom of nomadic jellies in Haifa, I was slashed by tentacles a couple times. It felt like slaps of hot oil. Lucky, the pain only lasted a couple hours. After a day, the marks were gone. Given how common they are, it’s pretty amazing that there’s no medical consensus on how to treat jellyfish stings. In large part that’s because there are thousands of jellyfish species swimming in the seas, and each with its own complement of stinging cells and toxins. Despite the Friend’s episode where […]

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Suez Backstory

A story that forewarns of ecosystem demise begins, for me, with two deaths. On October 17, the effervescent Heather Kahout lost her three-year battle with cancer. Heather and her husband Martin took a chance on me when I was really just a textbook writer and offered me a writing residency at Madroño Ranch, where, since they believed in me as a writer, I had to begin to believe in myself as well. Martin famously referred to Heather on Facebook as L&THCK, and it took me a while to realize what that meant. (She was anything but THiCK.) Until one day it clicked: the Lovely and Talented Heather Catto Kahout, which just about sums her up perfectly. From the first time I met Heather, I felt like I could talk with her animatedly about both the complex and the mundane. It was an unusual sensation, and […]

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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 […]

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