New Jellyfish Species Found

May 5, 2003

In the Monterey Submarine Canyon at depths of 2,100 feet (645 meters) and more, is a cold, dark world inhabited by strange creatures including vampire squid and football fish. But now researchers have identified one of the strangest of all, a new species of jellyfish.

They named the new species granrojo, Spanish for "big red." It's a predator—a gelatinous blood-red cannonball between two and three feet (60 and 90 centimeters) across that floats through the deep ocean waters quietly devouring prey.

The creature is described as the first member of a new subfamily of jellyfish.

The massive jelly is particularly unusual because it lacks tentacles. From its giant, red, bell-shaped body protrude between four and seven short, thick arms.

"The discovery of Big Red is a little like finding the first member of the cat family," says Larry Madin, a marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. "It is a pretty interesting find."

"We know almost nothing about it. What it does. What it eats. What eats it," says George Matsumoto, a jelly specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, who named the species.

"It's very large, it's a predator, and we assume that it must play an important role in the deep sea," says Matsumoto. It's also pretty common. It has been spotted more than two dozen times off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.

"When I first saw a picture of Big Red, it was just a matter of seconds before I realized that this was something very different," says Matsumoto. He and his colleagues have published their discovery and description of the new species online in the journal Marine Biology.

New Life Forms

In the last 20 years, using scuba, manned and unmanned submersibles, scientists have discovered more than 50 new species of jellies. Madin, an expert on jellies, has discovered more than half a dozen species.

When scientists discover a new life form they assign it a formal scientific name which describes how closely it is related to other creatures. Each name has seven components: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. Kingdom is the broadest category; species is the most specific. Animals within each of these categories share certain characteristics. All domestic housecats, for example, are members of the same species. Lions and tigers each belong to different species, but share enough similarities that they belong to the same genus: Panthera.

But more differences imply that a new specimen may belong to a new category altogether.

Continued on Next Page >>


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