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Pelagia noctiluca

This purple jellyfish species is by far the most common in the Mediterranean, having the ability to form huge swarms which can stretch for several square kilometers. The species, commonly known as the mauve stinger, is the source of much anxiety amongst swimmers globally in view of the painful sting it inflicts. It owes its Latin scientific name to the fact that it is capable of glowing in the dark by producing its own light. The species lays its eggs in the Mediterranean in December and young medusae develop after about one month.

Carybdea marsupialis

This species has a roughly cubical umbrella, with four long tentacles emerging from each corner of the umbrella and having roughly 4-5 times the length of the umbrella which is normally only 3cm long. The species is highly transparent and quite difficult to spot in water, normally occurring at great depths (500-1000 meters) but which can be occasionally nudged to the surface by currents. Although not lethal as its Pacific Ocean counterpart the sea wasp (Chironex fleckeri) which is listed as one of the most venomous animal species on earth, the Mediterranean box jellyfish species can still inflict painful stings. Sightings of this species in our waters have increased in recent years.

Physalia physalis

This species is not actually a jellyfish but actually consists of a colony of specialized gelatinous organisms. The colony has an air-filled bladder called the marissa or sail through it manages to float. The species is commonly known as the Portuguese man-o-war by virtue of its resemblance to a 16th century vessel of Portuguese design, known as the caravel, which had triangular sails similar in outline to Physalia. The species is native of tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean but is also commonly encountered in other regions such as Australia and the Mediterranean Sea. It inflicts very painful stings and the venom in detached tentacles and even in dead specimens (such as those which wash up on shore) can remain active for a few days.

Rhopilema nomadica

The commonly-known nomadic jellyfish has entered the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal in the 1970’s since it is native of the warmer tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. So far, in the Mediterranean it has been recorded only from Israel, Turkey and Greece. This jellyfish inflicts some very painful injuries and can reach weights of up to 10kg and it is listed by the European Union as one of the Worst Invasive Marine Species in European waters.

Vellela vellela

This species, known commonly as “by-the-wind sailor”, is fascinating in that it possesses a stiff vertical transparent sail which extends above the water and which propels the organism along the surface of the ocean. Few other marine species extend above the surface of the water, with such species known as pleuston. Since Vellella is at the mercy of the wind for its movement, thousands of such individuals sometimes strand on a particular beach, with the customary deep blue colour fading away into a translucent and shiny white as the organism dies.

Comb Jelly

This species is technically speaking not a jellyfish but a comb jelly (ctenophore) and it regales the observer with a dazzling display of lights since it too is capable of producing its own light. The self-generation of light is an important feature for species found in deeper waters where little or no light penetrates. The species is commonly known as the sea walnut and it is a voracious predator, feeding on small crustaceans, eggs and larvae of fish and even on other members of its own species. The species is native of North American waters but in the late 1980’s it was introduced accidentally in the Black Sea through the ballast water of ships and has caused the collapse of fisheries for anchovy, by feeding on the fish species’ larvae. Since then, this comb jelly has invaded the Caspian, Mediterranean and even the North and Baltic Seas.

Olindias phosphorica

This is a species of hydromedusa which has a broad global distribution, being known from temperate Atlantic waters and from the Mediterranean. It inflicts only a very mild sting which is not perceived by the majority of bathers. It is armed with a battery of relatively short tentacles and its radial canals are arranged in a distinctive red cross-like pattern. Up to the early 1980s, this species was much more common in locals waters before the advent of the Pelagia noctiluca annual blooms. A similar species which does not occur locally is the flower hat jellyfish (Olindias formosa) which occurs in waters off Brasil, Argentina and Japan.

Cotylorhiza tuberculata

This jellyfish species is known, quite aptly in view of its appearance, by the common name of fried egg jellyfish. It is frequently encountered in Maltese waters, as indicated by the existence of a Maltese name for such a species – qassata – which is a local pastry delicacy. The sting of such a jellyfish is innocuous and it normally appears in large swarms towards the end of summer, a period which coincides with the start of the dolphin fish (lampuki) fisheries and thus Maltese fishermen have dubbed such a species as ‘tal-lampuki.” Interestingly enough, juveniles of mackerel are frequently observed sheltering amongst the purple-tipped tentacles of the jellyfish.

Aurelia aurita

The species, also known as the saucer jellyfish, is one of a group of more than ten morphologically nearly identical jellyfish species in the genus Aurelia. In general, it is nearly impossible to identify Aurelia medusae without genetic sampling, so most of what follows about Aurelia aurita, could equally be applied to any species of the genus. The medusa is translucent, usually about 2540 cm in diameter, and can be recognized by its four horseshoe-shaped gonads that are easily seen through the top of the bell. It feeds by collecting medusae, plankton and mollusks with its fluid bell nematocyst-laden tentacles and bringing the prey into its body for digestion, but is capable of only limited motion; like other jellies it primarily drifts with the current, even when it is swimming. The genus Aurelia is found throughout most of the world's oceans, from the tropics to as far north as latitude 70N and as far south as 40S, although the species prefers temperate waters.

Rhizostoma pulmo

The sea lung, also known as the barrel or football jellyfish, is superficially similar to the nomadic jellyfish (Rhopilema nomadica), even in dimension. In fact, both species can reach a bell diameter hovering around 40-60cm but which can even reach the 90cm mark. In fact, the sea lung is considered as the largest jellyfish species in British waters, since it is known from the temperate Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean Sea. It is mainly distinguished from the nomadic jellyfish by a marginal blue ring girdling the perimeter of the bell, which is absent in the nomadic jellyfish. Unlike the latter species which has invaded the Mediterraean Sea from the Indo-Pacific region (it is a Lessepsian species), it is indigenous to the Mediterranean and it is innocuous.


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