PICS: New Pink Meanie, unicorn of jelly fish, discovered after jellyvorous Two Oceans aquarium incident

2019-07-23 16:30
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While the term pink meanie sounds cute and enticing, turns out this unicorn of the jellyfish species, is a voracious eater. 

Although it has yet to be given a scientific name, Cape Town's Two Oceans Aquarium Collections Team can boast of having two of this rare species under its keep. 

As with the first pink meanie, which was discovered accidentally at the Aquarium in 2017, this newcomer was also an accidental find.

Unlike many aquariums, the Two Oceans Aquarium doesn’t buy its animals and plants on display. instead they collect them.

"This way, we know where, when and what was collected and we can keep track of the animals as they settle into the Aquarium and, in some cases, are later released again."

About a month ago, the Collections Team and volunteer commercial divers were sourcing nightlight jellyfish in the waters around Robben Island and in Cape Town Harbour.

Nightlight jellyfish had been washing up in unusually large numbers all around the Western Cape in the previous few months. The Aquarium saw this as an excellent opportunity to collect a few for display at the Aquarium.

But little did the collections team know that their smack of nightlight jellies had a tiny stowaway…

 New pink jelly fish discovered at Two Oceans Aqua


A tiny pink meanie ephyra (the free-swimming baby form of a jellyfish) was hidden amongst the oral arms of the nightlight jellies and over a few short days, as it grew to metaephyra (basically a jelly teenager) stage it consumed all the nightlight jellies that our team had collected!

The aquarium's resident jelly expert Krish Lewis was thrilled by the rediscovery of this elusive jelly that he had previously dubbed “the unicorn of jellyfish”, and the discovery of one so young gave Lewis the opportunity to study some of the early life stages of this unusual animal.

As the resident "jelly guy", he describes the discovery of the first pink meanie as  his weirdest 

 We collected Cape compass jellyfish (Chrysaora agulhensis) in False Bay, which needed to be fed live jellies for a while as they were wild caught and needed to heal the holes caused by parasites. I was on study leave one Friday, and Aquarist Bamanye Mpetsheni caught some wild jellies to feed to them and, unbeknown to him, he introduced a very rare species of jelly, which only occurs in very cold water on our coast.

So, when I came in on Monday, expecting to see six Cape compass jellies, there were only two left. I was like "Hrm, something is weird here", and when I looked closer I saw it was the pink meanie. I got super excited and I literally screamed "It's the unicorn of jellies!" People thought I was crazy. So by total fluke, we caught one of the world's rarest jellies. 

The pink meanie is now officially on display at the Two Oceans Aquarium in the Jelly Gallery near the I&J Ocean Exhibit.

Cape Town local and avid freediver Lisa Beasley also discovered a pink meanie in False Bay – meaning that this animal may not be as rare as one thought.

What do we know about pink meanies?

Pink meanies are jellyvorous, meaning they feed on other jelly species by reeling them in with their long tentacles. It is considered the most efficient jellyvorous jelly, as it can digest its prey within two to three hours. Its Mexican cousins have been seen consuming up to 34 other jellies at once.

The pink meanies are relatively indiscriminate in the species of jellyfish that they feed on, relying on large blooms of prey species rather than the specific species itself. This pink meanie was taking advantage of the large number of nightlight jellies in Table Bay, while the 2017 discovery was found amongst a bloom of compass jellies.

Experimentation at the Two Oceans Aquarium shows that pink meanies do not eat other jelly-like animals. In test feeds, both salps and comb jellies have been rejected as food by the pink meanie. We have found that it only feeds on Scyphozoa (true jellyfish, like compass jellies) and Cubozoa (box jellies). 

Opportunities for further study

Now that the pink meanie has reached its adult or medusa stage, we are going to determine whether it is a hermaphroditic species or has two distinct sexes, as this will shed light on how such a rare animal is able to reproduce.

 New pink jelly fish discovered at Two Oceans Aqua


Why is the South African pink meanie special?

The particular pink meanie at the Two Oceans Aquarium differs from pink meanies found in other parts of the world.

This pink meanie is also unusual in that it is the only known member of Drymonema which inhabits cold water – all other types that have been discovered inhabit warm waters like the Mexican coast and the Mediterranean.

Interestingly, although more thoroughly studied than our local species, the Mexican pink meanie (Drymonema larsoni), was only discovered in the year 2000. A Mediterranean relative, known as the "Big Pink Jellyfish" (Drymonema dalmatinum), has been known to science since the 1800s, but when spotted in 2014 it had been almost 70 years since the last sighting.

These jellies are incredibly rare, and this new South African species is no exception.  

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