Why Are Jellies Important?

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The Jelly Dome in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life has been extended. Now, you’ll have until June 13 to enjoy this immersive video experience and get a feel for the underwater world of jellies. 

Even if you haven’t had a chance to visit the dome yet, keep reading to learn about the important roles these species play in their ecosystem—and the contributions they are already making to medicine.  

Near the surface, most jellies eat tiny plankton that drift through the water. Deeper down, many graze on “marine snow”— bits of dead matter that drift down from the surface. Larger jellies eat fish, crustaceans, and even other jellies. 

 

Mushroom-shaped with trailing tendrils, this jellyfish swims underwater.

Lagoon jellies use their poisonous tentacles to capture prey.

Courtesy of opencage/Wikimedia Commons


In turn, jellies are food for many species of fish, sea turtles, and marine birds. Some species, like the rhizostome jellyfish, even end up on restaurant menus.

Jellies are also playing a part in medical advances. The genes responsible for regeneration in some species of jellies may help scientists replace cells damaged by disease. Research on jellyfish venom could someday lead to new drugs. 

 

This thin, gelatinous jellyfish is translucent with longitudinal rows of cilia attached to bioluminscent plates.

Scientists are studying the bioluminescence displayed by animals like this northern comb jelly. 

© NOAA


Scientists are even using a protein for jelly fluorescence to tag cancer cells. The cancer cells glow when exposed to light, making them easy to see and remove during surgery.

To learn more about jellies—and experience life in their underwater world—visit The Jelly Dome through June 30 in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.

*Jelly Dome hours are subject to change, please visit the site for details and updates.