Jellyfish are cool. They just are. With their strange blob-like bodies, far-reaching tentacles, and varying colors, what’s not to love? My fascination with these odd creatures started when I was young. I used to catch small, clear jellyfish with my hands, inspect them, and then put them back in the water. My dad said not to touch ones that had red on them because they could be poisonous.
Fair enough. There’s one life lesson — beware of red jellyfish. I have since learned this is called “aposematism,” — the use of conspicuous markings or bright colors by an animal to warn predators of its toxic nature. As I have matured and spent more time with jellyfish, I wonder what else can be learned from them.
In a former job requiring travel, my co-worker and I used to stay at a nice beachfront hotel on the Oregon coast. In an open sitting room, designed to make guests feel like they are on a ship as they gaze out over the ocean, there was a large jellyfish aquarium. I used to visit it several times per trip, watching their gentle, flowing movements, wondering how much consciousness they had, curious about their lives.
I learned from nearby signage that reproduction happens in several stages, but the coolest part is a polyp phase where the jellyfish resembles a sea anemone. This stage can last from months to years but eventually ends in a clone phase during which a part buds or breaks off in a piece that eventually grows into the familiar (medusa) jellyfish stage. It reminds me of popping a single candy off a roll of Lifesavers.
As I watched the jellyfish, I found if I really focused on just one, essentially talking to it with my mind and telling it how beautiful it was, it would come near me. This was a repeatable event and I loved it! Now, I know some of you reading this won’t believe me and that’s your choice. For anyone interested and open, I highly recommend reading up a bit on “animal communication.” It’s the idea that humans and animals can communicate via images and emotions rather than only through vocal or visual cues. Call it telepathy, if that term doesn’t freak you out. Call it alternative means of communication if it does.
I’m no expert on animal communication, but my willingness to express my genuine appreciation seemed to have gotten a positive response. How beautiful of a life lesson is that?
Be willing to express your appreciation.
While some animals clearly “do” things, like build dams or nests or use tools to collect food, jellyfish are more subtle.
- They swim, squeezing their bodies in order to push jets of water through their mouth to create propulsion.
- They eat, using their tentacles to disable and eat their prey, though it tends to be done very passively, grasping whatever passes their way.
- They poop, sort of, when water washes in food, it also washes out feces.
- Mostly, they drift around, taking advantage of whatever food passes by, and letting the water provide for its needs.
The lesson here is one of working with the environment instead of against it. They don’t hunt. They don’t need to rearrange their environment. They simply trust that what they need will come to them. As humans, we cannot be quite that passive but I believe the lesson is about being in harmony with your surroundings and the environment, in general.
Live in harmony with the environment.
If you have ever walked along a dock, or paddled your way around a saltwater bay, there’s a good chance you’ve seen jellyfish swimming, or floating, just beneath the surface. Not long ago I wrote a story that included my youthful adventures in rowing a dingy around as my best friend and I picked up debris from the water. During such escapades, we often found many jellyfish, mostly moon jellies, but sometimes other types. (We were in the San Juan and Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia.)
It was fascinating, watching these gelatinous blobs being tossed about by the current, knowing that they were alive but not quite understanding it. They have no brain, bones, blood, or heart. Despite their name, they aren’t even fish, which are vertebrates. They are invertebrates. Jellyfish are mostly water (up to 95%), tissue, and a basic nervous system.
There is a beauty in their simplicity. Watching them glide through the water is peaceful, calming even. I felt this as a child, and as an adult, I enjoy replicating that feeling. Among my favorite possessions is a “jellyfish lamp” which is a small, lighted cylindrical aquarium with a fan that stirs up artificial jellyfish causing them to move in a remarkably realistic manner.
Judging by the number of these devices available on Amazon, many people long for the calming effect of watching jellyfish move. For a more authentic experience, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a Jelly Cam where viewers can watch jellyfish accompanied by a soothing soundtrack. It’s very meditative.
I think the lesson here is about our need for calm communion with nature. The pull we feel to watch these gentle creatures simply moving through the water is a call from our spirit inviting us to feel the connection with all living things. A photo, a video, or even a simple artificial aquarium reminds us of that connection and lifts our spirits when we cannot experience nature in person.
Spending time in peaceful communion with nature is important.
I don’t get to spend as much time near the water as I did when I was young. What a wonderful gift my parents gave me, allowing me to learn so much from the ocean and its inhabitants, even when I thought I was just playing. If I’d never picked up a drifting jellyfish or watched them float alongside our boat, I might never have been drawn to the aquarium on the coast, or the many others I have since enjoyed, or searched for them whenever I am in the water. My life has been richer for those experiences.
Jellyfish, nearly primordial, existing for over 500 million years, are a beautiful and gentle reminder to slow down, appreciate what we have, and become aware of the natural world of which we are only a small part.