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SCIENTISTS DISCOVER A NEW JELLYFISH SPECIES AND FAMILY – “PINK MEANIE’ MAKES COVER OF BIOLOGICAL BULLETIN

Jan 10, 2011

Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientist Dr. Keith Bayha, while working alongside Dr. Michael Dawson at the University of California Merced, has discovered that the jellyfish Drymonema, commonly called the ‘pink meanie’ in the Gulf of Mexico, represents not only a new species of jellyfish, but also a new family, based on DNA evidence and morphological analyses.  This discovery has made the most recent cover story of the journal Biological Bulletin (http://www.biolbull.org/content/vol219/issue3/cover.shtml).

The scientists have named the new species, which occurs in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, Drymonema larsoni, after the scientist Ronald J. Larson, who pioneered work on this animal in the 1980’s.  The new family, Drymonematidae, is the first new scyphozoan or “true jellyfish” family since 1921 and covers similar species in the Mediterranean Sea and South America.

“It’s rare that something like this could escape the notice of scientific research for so long.  That it did is partially due to Drymonema’s extreme rarity almost everywhere in the world, except the northern Gulf of Mexico, where it bloomed in 2000.  However, much of the project’s success can be tied to the use of molecular techniques, such as DNA sequencing, in addition to more traditional visual examination,” stated Dr. Bayha.

In recent years, the ecological and economic impacts of jellyfish blooms, such as stinging swimmers, clogging power plant intakes and damaging fish stocks, have been increasingly recognized as significant.  However, as these watery animals are coming under greater scrutiny, it is becoming clear that much of our past knowledge regarding jellyfish, such as the idea that there are only a few jellyfish species spread throughout the globe, is incorrect. 

While many jellyfish tend to look extremely similar because their bodies are relatively simple, research conducted by Dr. Dawson over the past decade, employing cutting-edge DNA techniques, has revealed many cryptic jellyfish species, or jellyfish that look the same or extremely similar, but are, in fact, different species. 

The current study has shown that this concept extends to the family-level and, in describing this new family, the authors indicate evolutionary adaptations that might have made these animals more adept at feeding on other jellyfish, such as their cousin the moon jellyfish Aurelia. This study further adds to the growing evidence that jellyfish are far more diverse and complicated than previously believed and that their responses to events like global climate change might be similarly complex.

“As a rule, jellyfish tend to be relatively understudied compared to other animals, and we are constantly uncovering new information fundamental to our understanding of these interesting animals and how they interact with humans and the marine environment,” added Dr. Bayha.

Photo:  Drymonema larsoni, or “the pink meanie,” recently analyzed by DNA to be a new species and family of jellyfish found in the Gulf of Mexico, feeding on the moon jellyfish Aurelia.  Photographic Credit: Mary Elizabeth Miller, DISL.

Press inquiries:

Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Dr. Keith Bayha
Post-Doctoral Scientist
Dauphin Island Sea Lab
(251) 861-2141 x7591
kbayha@disl.org

 

 
 
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