Tag Archives: comb jelly

A Swim Over The Rock Pools

“Quick, I need the camera. There’s a jelly.”

Junior’s enthusiasm takes me aback. He has a healthy aversion to getting close to jellyfish. We have already changed course many times on today’s high tide swim to avoid the trailing tentacles of compass jellyfish.

Compass jellyfish. Also known as sea nettles as they pack quite a little sting, these jellyfish have beautiful markings.
The distinctive markings of the compass jellyfish.

These common summer visitors have striking brown V-shaped markings around their edges, like the points of a compass. Although their sting is rarely serious, somewhere in the region of a stinging nettle in strength, it isn’t much fun if you swim face-first into one as I have done on a few occasions.

Crystal jelly. This is a hydroid medusa rather than a ‘true’ jellyfish. It has short tentacles around the edges rather than long trailing tentacles.

Some other species we have seen this week, like the moon jellyfish and crystal jellyfish, are harmless but today only the compass jellies are out.

One of many moon jellyfish washed up by the strong swell. This species is harmless.
Moon jellyfish only have a very weak sting so are usually harmless to people. Never touch a jelly if you’re not sure of the species and wash your hands well before touching your eyes.

Incredible numbers of sand eels fill the water in every direction, flashing silver as they turn, before melding into the green sea. Junior notices a small spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula) – also known as dogfish – swimming through a rocky gully beneath us. Alongside submerged rocks, several species of wrasse flit among the kelp.

This sand eel is speeding along – photo by Junior

I unclip the camera from the safety float and pass it to Junior who is pointing excitedly at something I can’t see.

I dip under the water and look at where he’s pointing. Still nothing. I bob up for air and try again.

This time I see something much smaller than I was expecting, or half see it – it’s mostly transparent with just the faintest pink hue.

Comb jelly – photo by Junior

“Is it a comb jelly?” Junior asks. This is the first one he’s seen and much excitement ensues as he tries to photograph a barely visible tiny swimming thing while holding his breath and floating in water 5 metres deep.

Comb jelly by Junior. The transparency of the animal and its movement in the water make it hard to focus, but you can see the shining light of the combs.

Mostly we just enjoy the incredible coloured light show this Beroe cucumis comb jelly is putting on for us. The iridescent disco-light effect is created by lines of beating hair-like cilia (the combs) that run the length of the comb jelly’s body.

This species looks like a simple hollow tube or sack, but it is an efficient predator, known to feed on other comb jellies.

The different colours of the lights around the edges of the comb jelly are incredible to watch. Photo by Junior.

How Junior spotted this little speck in the ocean, I have no idea. We look around for more but find none.

Comb jelly by Junior.

Eventually we have to head back to shore, drifting over all of our familiar rock pools on the way. Hermit crabs and netted dog whelks are out in force and as we near the beach, we see shannies basking on sunny rocks in the shallows.

There are lots of these ‘south clawed’ hermit crabs (Diogenes pugilator) on the sand. Their left claw is much longer and larger than their right.

This might not be rock pooling in the usual sense, swimming on a high tide gives us a whole new perspective on life here. You don’t need to be a billionaire to become weightless and take a soundless flight over the rock pools. There is no better way to see how this environment looks for most of each day, when the wider ocean and the shore cross over and become one.

Swimming in the sea in Cornwall is a wonderful experience but is very different from swimming in a pool and can be dangerous. Always consider the conditions and stay well within your limits. Check the weather, tides and currents, enter the water slowly and adjust to the temperature. Choose a lifeguarded beach if possible and a place where you know how to safely enter and exit the water. Swim alongside the shore. A tow float makes you more visible and beach shoes can protect you from weever fish and sharp rocks. Don’t swim alone and let someone know where you are. In any emergency at sea or on the shore, call the Coastguard on 999.

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Wading through jelly – Comb Jellies  in Looe

I should be at home, cracking on with some work, but I’ve heard there are comb jellies about and I could do with some photos for my jellyfish course for ERCCIS.

Any excuse.

I cut through overgrown vegetation, down the cliff path to a favourite cove. In the ten minutes it’s taken me to walk here, the grey clouds have lifted and the sea’s looking good enough to dive into.

My progress through the rocky gully is slow. The warm weather has brought an explosion of slippery sea lettuce which blocks my view of my feet as they feel for underwater rocks. Tangles of pink spaghetti, the eggs of sea hares, are wrapped around many of the green fronds and a close inspection reveals that dozens of stalked jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus) have already made their homes here.

As I move into deeper water, something catches my eye, floating below the surface. It’s so transparent it’s barely there, but it shimmers intermittently. With some difficulty, the current swishing the jelly back and forth, I scoop it up and carry it in cupped hands to a sheltered overhang. For a moment I think I’ve dropped it, then it swims out.

Barely there - a transparent Beroe cucumis comb jelly in my hand
Barely there – a transparent Beroe cucumis comb jelly in my hand

I’m treated to a fabulous display of iridescence as the comb jelly beats its tiny combs, sending a trail of light and colour up the lines on its tiny body.

Between the current washing into the pool and the jelly’s own surprisingly speedy swimming efforts, it slips away each time I come close to getting it under the camera. To add to the fun, my camera can’t see it. I take a whole series of photos of nothing. The perfect transparency of the animal means I can only focus on the seaweed below.

The Beroe cucumis comb jelly has a characteristic sack shape.
The Beroe cucumis comb jelly has a characteristic sack shape.

When another comb jelly washes into the pool, I’m sure there will be lots more opportunities to attempt photos. Stepping out into the open water, I take some time to accustom my eyes, staring past the surface reflection into the water. Soon, I notice comb jellies everywhere.

The irridescent combs of Beroe cucumis
The irridescent combs of Beroe cucumis

There are dozens, hundreds even, and some are large enough to fill the palm of my hand. Even the large jellies pose a challenge to my camera, but amongst the many seaweed shots, I start to take a few that show off the jellies’ light display.

While most are the large species, Beroe cucumis, with their characteristic sack shape, there are a few smaller ones amongst them. These are sea gooseberries, Pleurobrachia pileus. They are barely a couple of centimetres long, spherical, with two trailing tentacles.

A sea gooseberry with trailing tentacles. Its combs are arranged in lines up its sides.
A sea gooseberry with trailing tentacles. Its combs are arranged in lines up its sides.

Despite their tiny size, they are just as mesmerising as the B. Cucumis, the lines down their sides flickering every colour of the rainbow.

Sparkles of irridescence from a passing Sea gooseberry
Sparkles of irridescence from a passing Sea gooseberry

Among all the comb jellies I spot an even smaller interloper, a hydroid medusa. Hydroids are related to jellyfish, but their adult form usually lives attached to seaweeds, stones or shells. This minute creature is a baby hydroid, looking very much like a jellyfish as it actively swims past, beating its bell fringed with short tentacles.

Hydroid medusa - probably Clytia hemisphaerica swimming by
Hydroid medusa – probably Clytia hemisphaerica swimming by

The pattern of the cross on top of it and the fringe of dark spots around the edge of the bell suggest that it is a young Clytia hemispherica.

Hydroid medusa showing its delicate pattern and short tentacles.
Hydroid medusa showing its delicate pattern and short tentacles.

The glare of sunlight on my screen combined with the transparency of all the animals I’m trying to photograph make it impossible to tell how I am doing. I give up taking photos and simply enjoy the spectacle until the tide calls time and forces me back up the beach.

Comb jellies are supposed to phosphoresce, which would be amazing to see. I’m wondering if I can sneak in a little night time rockpooling this weekend. Although the jellies are here in huge numbers today, they may disappear as quickly as they arrived. I should be working, but some things are just too exciting.