At least a dozen species of sea jellies are edible, including moons and blue blubbers, but Rhopilema esculentum is actually called the edible jelly. Jellies’ potential as the next seafood sensation remains untapped in American cuisine, but elsewhere, especially Asia, they are popular. And R. esculentum is the most abundant and important jelly species in Chinese aquaculture. In addition to being a low-cal, no-cholesterol source of protein, the jellies are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Shedd raises edible jellies, too, but only for display. In fact, most of the dozen species you’ll see in the Jellies special exhibit are bred here. That’s part of our commitment to sustainable practices, but it’s also a testament to the skill of the special exhibits aquarists.
Resembling button mushrooms right now, these jellies started as planktonic larvae, or planulae, that settled on the substrate of a behind-the-scenes habitat, anchored and grew as polyps, the first of sea jellies’ two-stage life cycle. In mid-February, says Jellies aquarist Maureen Koneval, “they popped off as ephyrae”—a disk-shaped phase that forms in stacks on the polyp until something triggers them to sail off like a line of Frisbees. “They belled over, or turned into tiny medusas”—the second stage—“in seven to 10 days, which is pretty quick.”
They grew quickly, too, reaching about a half-inch in diameter in a month—large enough to go on display. “Their appearance should change quite a bit as they get older, too,” says Maureen, “not only in size—the bell can grow to 18 inches across—but in the structure of their oral arms and tentacles.” She adds that the jellies’ tentacles are just starting to grow. They’ll look like long strands of angel hair pasta.
Edible jellies are new to the special exhibit. They are related to spotted lagoon jellies, on display nearby. Sandwich in a visit to Jellies soon to watch them grow.
—Karen Furnweger, web editor