Lions Mane Jellyfish are truly captivating creatures. They are the largest jellyfish species found in the oceans, they can travel thousands of miles without swimming, and have an integral role as both predators and prey.
Also known as Cyanea capillate, the Lions Mane jellyfish has been roaming the oceans for 650 million years. They are a simple but perfect design of nature and possess several key survival features.
Found in colder waters off the Arctic Circle, the Atlantic and the north Pacific, this jelly species hovers around the pelagic zone, a middle zone of water near the surface. Their bodies consist of 95% water and they have no brain. The main portion of the jelly’s body, called the bell consists of eight lobes and is surrounded by eight clusters of tentacles. The tentacles provide the jellyfish as a means of protection and as a way to catch food. Each of the eight clusters contains around 65-150 tentacles covered with extremely sticky cells. A Lions Mane may have over 1000 tentacles on its body, each containing millions of tiny stinging cells called nematocysts. The nematocysts pierce the body of the jelly’s prey or predator and inject toxins. Once the toxins have paralyzed the prey, the jelly can bring in the meal towards its mouth. The diet of a Lions Mane Jellyfish consists mainly of tiny fish called zooplankton, specifically protozoan and metazoans, as well as tiny comb jellyfish called ctenophores. As the jellyfish floats along it uses its long tentacles to sting and paralyze unsuspecting prey that ventures into reach.
These jellyfish also serve as a prey species for many other ocean creatures. Seabirds, other jellyfish, large fish and sea turtles will all consume jellyfish; sea turtles seem to have a natural defense against their toxins. Other ocean species use the floating jellyfish as protection from other predators. Some types of shrimp, medusa fish and juvenile prow fish will often hide underneath a Lions Mane Jellyfish, taking advantage of the tentacles for protection.
Lions Mane jellyfish vary in size and color. One of the largest ever discovered measured 8 feet wide in the bell section and had over 100ft long tentacles. They are tiny when born and can range anywhere between these sizes. They can also be a dark purple to red color, or even tan or pink. They can swim slightly, but mostly rely on the oceans currents, tides and winds to carry them vast distances in search of food. In this manner some jellyfish can travel thousands of miles.
Lions Mane Jellyfish can reproduce in two ways, both sexually and asexually, helping them to survive as a species over millions of years. There are four stages to a jellyfish’s lifetime, which can last typically for about one year, a larval stage, a polyp stage, an ephyrae stage and the medusa stage. Female jelly fish will keep their eggs safe by holding them around their mouth until after fertilization when they move to the protection of the tentacles. It is here that they grow into larvae. Once they have reached this stage they will be deposited onto a hard surface to become polyps. These creatures resemble small anemones. Here they begin to reproduce asexually; creating tall stacks of individual creatures now called ephraes, but still do not possess arms or tentacles. Once each individual ephrae breaks off of the stack it has reached the medusa or adult stage and now resembles a typical adult jellyfish.
Lions Mane Jellyfish stings are toxic to human tissue, as anyone who has ever had an encounter with one will tell you. While these stings are not usually fatal, the nematocysts on each tentacle inject enough toxins into human tissues to cause blisters, redness, skin irritation and muscle cramps. The best medications to stop the painful stinging sensations are vinegar, rubbing alcohol or meat tenderizers, as they contain substances that neutralize the toxins. Water, especially cool water will release more toxins into the bloodstream and will make the stinging worse. It is best to avoid contact with jellyfish if possible, even those found washed up on the beach. The tentacles still have the ability to sting even after the jellyfish had died.
Lions Mane jellyfish are truly fascinating creatures and play an important role in the life cycle chain of the ocean. Their continued existence is vital for preserving the natural balance of the oceans.