‘Pink meanie’: New rare jellyfish species displayed in SA for the first time ever

2017-09-11 14:30 - Kavitha Pillay
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The "pink meanie". (Photo: Two Oceans Aquarium)

Cape Town – If you think that humans are the most socially advanced of all living species and the only creatures to discriminate against or attack our own kind, think again.

Nature too tends to display discriminative behaviour from time to time. Take for instance the Drymonema species – an extremely rare, bright pink species of “true” jellyfish that causes common species of jellyfish to huddle on top of each other in an attempt to get away from and isolate it. This type of jellyfish is commonly, and quite accurately, referred to as the “pink meanie”.

Only ever sighted a few times together with other vividly coloured jelly species - such as the moon jellies on which it feeds in the northern hemisphere – it is therefore a special and rare delight to have this species of jellyfish on display at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town.

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According to the aquarium, the pink meanie is on display in South Africa “for the first time ever”.

“This ‘pink meanie’ jelly is so rare that it doesn't even have a scientific name - in fact this is only the third one ever seen, and the only one ever to be on display in an aquarium,” says Two Oceans Aquarium on Instagram.

“The particular pink meanie at the Two Oceans Aquarium differs from pink meanies found in other parts of the world. It is thought to be endemic, as this variety has only been observed around the south-western coast of Africa, an unusual habitat for Drymonema,” says the aquarium, adding that the species usually inhabit warm waters, such as the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

So how did this pink meanie get to Two Oceans Aquarium?

The specimen on display at the Two Oceans Aquarium was actually collected accidentally! According to the aquarium, it was “netted outside of the Aquarium while collecting box jellies” and was added to the compass jelly holding tank.

When all the compass jellies appeared to be sticking together – which Two Oceans Aquarium says is an odd occurrence as they have adaptations to avoid becoming entangled – that’s when staff noticed the rare species.

“On closer inspection, it was revealed that the compass jellies had all been ensnared by an unnoticed newcomer. With much excitement, our jelly handler realised that it was in fact a pink meanie - an animal he described as 'the unicorn of jellies',” says the aquarium.

“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.”

According to the aquarium, the species found in Mexico have been seen consuming up to 34 other jellies at once!

“Needless to say, our specimen made quick work of all the compass jellies it was accidentally placed with,” says Two Oceans Aquarium.

Of course this resulted in the remaining jellies huddling together in an attempt to isolate themselves from the pink meanie which is so aptly named as it has tormented the other jellies after preying on its own kind.

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“Through some experimentation, our staff have determined that this pink meanie doesn't like eating comb jellies or salps - it grips them but seems to immediately react and release them,” says the aquarium, adding that it appears to readily eat "true jellyfish", like the compass jelly.

“And this one enjoys a quick snack - or should we say "smack" - of box jellies too!” adds the aquarium.

The aquarium encourages visitors to come see the species soon as they won't be keeping it for too long. “It’s growing fast and eating a lot of other jellyfish, so come see it before it's too late,” says Two Oceans Aquarium.

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Pink meanie fast facts

“Unlike all other jellies, the pink meanie's tentacles grow from the base of its umbrella, not the rim. This is significant, as it may shed light on the evolution of jellies,” says Two Oceans Aquarium.

The aquarium adds that due to its rarity, the South African species has not even been classified and “know very little” about the 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) was discovered 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,” says the aquarium.

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