Off the Florida Keys (map), hundreds of stinging tentacles dangle from a "pink meanie"—a new species of jellyfish with a taste for other jellies.
When pink meanies were first observed in large numbers in the Gulf of Mexico (map) in 2000, they were thought to be Drymonema dalmatinum, a species known since the late 1800s and usually found in the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and off the Atlantic coast of South America.
Recently, though, scientists using genetic techniques and visual examinations have revealed that this pink meanie is an entirely new species—Drymonema larsoni, named after scientist Ron Larson, who did some of the first work on the species in the Caribbean. (Related: "'City of Gonads' Jellyfish Discovered.")
Moreover, the pink meanie appears to be so different from other known scyphozoans, or "true jellyfish," that it forced the scientists to create a whole new animal family, a biological designation two levels above species. The new scyphozoan family—the first since 1921—is called Drymonematidae and includes all Drymonema species.
"They're just off by themselves," said Keith Bayha, a marine biologist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.
"As we started to really examine Drymonema both genetically and morphologically, it quickly became clear that they're not like other jellyfish and are in their own family."
Bayha and Michael Dawson, an expert on the evolutionary history of marine creatures at the University of California, Merced, detail the new Drymonema jellyfish species and family in the current issue of the journal the Biological Bulletin.