Two common jellyfishes wash ashore during fall and winter, the Pacific sea nettle, Chrysaora fuscescens, and the larger moon jellyfish Aurelia aurita. Both are in the class Scyphozoa, large jellyfish with Jellyfish1long, frilly but fragile oral arms that extend from the mouth and drape below the bell. Scyphozoans have no vellum, a membrane that encircles the inside of the margin of the bell of other jellyfish in the class Hydrozoa. What you see on beach is mainly the gelatinous, dome-shaped bell, flattened because it has washed ashore and is no longer buoyed by water, and you may see some tentacles extending from the bell’s edge. In the water these are handsome creatures, their oral arms and tentacles trailing many feet behind the bell that slowly pulsates with rhythmic contractions. Jellyfish are considered part of the plankton because their ability to swim is limited and they mainly drift with the current. 

Chrysaora has a lovely golden-brown bell and 24 dark brown tentacles equipped with potent stinging cells (nematocysts) that rim the edge. Its Chrysaora-fuscescens-1white oral arms and many of the tentacles are almost always lost from individuals that have been pummeled in the surf then stranded on shore. It is reputed to have a vicious sting and should be avoided. They, as other jellyfish, are carnivorous and use these stinging cells to capture prey, including small fish, other jelly fish, ctenophores, marine eggs and larvae, any animal of appropriate size. Chrysaora may form dense offshore swarms that wash onto the beach. A related species, C. melanogaster, which has 16 radiating dark streaks on the bell, may occasionally wash ashore.

The moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita, can be dinner plate size. It is easily identified by its frosty, semi-transparent bell with four purple, horseshoe-shaped gonads easily seen through the upper surface. MosJellyfish2t jellyfish are dioecious, that is there are males and females, but Aurelia is hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. Aurelia is the jellyfish whose life cycle is typically shown in biology text books. It has both asexual and sexual phases. The asexual phase starts with a small polyp called a scyphistoma that, at the proper time of the year, begins budding off small eight-armed, free-swimming medusas, the ephyrae. The scyphistoma buds by strobilization, where the ephyrae, which are stacked like cupcake cups on the oral end of the scyphistoma, separate themselves and swim away as new ones are produced. The scyphistoma at this stage is termed a strobila.  The ephyrae swim around for about three months before they mature into the jellyfish we are familiar with. These jellyfish produce eggs that, when fertilized, grow into larvae, the planulae, which settle on a hard substrate, such as the underside of a rock, and become scyphistomae.

Aurelia-aurita-1 Aurelia-aurita-2

Photo by Kari Nelson

Text and photographs by Jim Young
Oceanside, Oregon

Return to the Floaters and Drifters page.