Jelly hunting is an work activity that I enjoy the most! Every year the aquarium staff collects jellies from the local waters near to the VLM, such as the York River. Certain jelly species are seasonal and tend to show up in the area at different times of the year. The large colorful lion’s mane jellies Cyanea capillata are actually arctic and prefer colder water, and therefore appear in late January to early March. The white jellies that haunt the summertime waters are sea nettles Chrysaora quinquecirrha, which are famous for their stinging tentacles. We can usually rely on sea nettles popping up in early June when the waters start to warm up. However, an unusual amount of heavy rains have kept water temperatures low and pushed their arrival back a few weeks. Since sea nettles are so common in the Chesapeake Bay, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks the ideal conditions for these jellies in the bay, and we are able to view their abundance online! Finally, in the last two weeks, we hit the jelly jackpot at Grandview Beach in Hampton.
Sea nettles are generally much smaller than lion’s mane jellies, but are faster and more aggressive. Their sting can be deadly to their prey, but is no more than a painful irritation to humans and can be neutralized with a small amount of vinegar. Nettles are carnivorous, usually feeding on zooplankton, other jellies, and even small fishes! On exhibit we try to emulate their natural diet as closely as possible. They are fed minced capelin, shrimp, or squid, with an enriched commercial food called Cyclop- Eeze The prepared food is then mixed with salt water and distributed to each jelly using a turkey baster. Lion’s mane are larger and slower, and their sting is not quite strong enough to irritate human skin, therefore they are fed with larger pieces of food which is distributed individually into their tentacles using tweezers.Moon jellies are planktivorous and are fed Artemia nauplii or newly hatched brine shrimp.