National Geographic News
A photo of a Pelagia Benovici jellyfish

A new species of jellyfish, Pelagia benovici, was discovered off the coast of Venice, Italy.


Jane J. Lee

National Geographic

Published May 15, 2014

Last fall, fishers in the Adriatic Sea (map) near Venice, Italy, pulled up nets full of hundreds of two-inch-wide (five centimeter), golden jellyfish. Having never seen the jellyfish before, the fishers sent pictures to researchers, who identified the beautiful interlopers as a new species.

About two or three new jellyfish species pop up every year, says Claudia Mills, a marine biologist at the University of Washington in Friday Harbor. However, finding such a conspicuous newcomer in a relatively shallow body of water close to shore is extremely rare, says Stefano Piraino, a jellyfish researcher at the Università del Salento in Lecce, Italy.

Piraino and his colleagues published their description of the new jellyfish—dubbed Pelagia benovici—this month in the journal Zootaxa.

The find comes as a surprise to scientists because the Adriatic Sea is one of the best studied bodies of water in the world. The fact that this jellyfish avoided detection until last year suggests that it is a fairly recent arrival, the study authors assert. This means that it's probably an invasive species, Piraino said in an email interview.

The Gulf of Venice in the Adriatic Sea is a hot spot for alien species introduction, he explains. Intense transcontinental shipping activity, as well as the aquaculture trade, provides plenty of opportunities for invasive species to set up shop. "We believe this species entered the Mediterranean Sea by ballast water transfer [by ships]," Piraino says.

Experts aren't sure where P. benovici comes from, but it's a good bet that it could be native to the Indian Ocean, says marine biologist Mills. It's an understudied part of the world known for a surprising amount of diversity in marine organisms.

Researchers are just starting to get to know P. benovici, and much work remains to be done. They aren't sure how painful its stings are, since many of the fishers who handled the jellyfish wore gloves. And they aren't sure what it eats, although closely related species are carnivores that eat fish eggs and larvae, as well as tiny crustaceans, says Piraino.

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Stefano Piraino
Stefano Piraino

Non-indigenous (i.e. alien, exotic, non-native) species (NIS) are introduced organisms outside their natural (past or present) range of distribution, and outside their natural dispersal potential, which might survive and subsequently reproduce, threatening biodiversity. Species of unknown origin that cannot be ascribed as being native or alien are termed cryptogenic species. In many cases, non-indigenous species do not harm the regional ecology and economics. However, in certain cases, non-indigenous species can become “invasive” species and have enormous and long-lasting impacts on the region. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive lists NIS as Descriptor 2 for the evaluation of Good Environmental Status (GES) of marine ecosystems, stating that NIS should be at levels that do not adversely alter the ecosystem. 

Invasive alien species (IAS) are a subset of established NIS able to spread in invaded regions and impact biological diversity and/or ecosystem functioning, socio-economic values, or human health.

Also native species can be invasives. Indeed, either alien and native species with invasive potential are species that may undergo pulse-like, periodic exponential population growth (usually days to months) during which they have an impact on biological diversity, ecosystem functioning, socio-economic values or human health.

As an example, the native Mediterranean species Pelagia noctiluca, close relative of P. benovici, is also invasive.

For clarity, the P. benovici species can be regarded invasive just because it may form large population outbreaks invading the new habitat. But it is an alien, as explained in the article.

Stefano Piraino
Stefano Piraino

Stefano Piraino has received research funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme for the VECTORS project ( and from the ENPI CBCMED programme for the MED-JELLYRISK project ( Additional support and use of facilities were obtained from the FP7 EU projects COCONET and PERSEUS, and from the Italian project RITMARE. 

Bellz Webster
Bellz Webster

Another new wonder of life. Sent by God? There have been may new species of animals found in the last few years, one has to wonder what it all means when so many other animals are becomeing extinct. Lovely picture.


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