The Bloodbelly Comb Jelly's Bad*** Soundtrack

by Jennifer Frazer on October 24, 2009

Don’t you wish you had an ubercool espionage movie soundtrack to accompany you wherever you go? I know I do. Make sure to hit the HQ button if you have the bandwidth.

Actually, I quite wish they’d present more nature videos this way. Do these jellies not have the feel of sleek hyper-space cruisers in this short film? It befits the coolness I think these organisms have, rather than the hysterical watch-me-nearly-die antics and 4th-grade scripting approach (Top 10 most venomous animals!) which many popular modern animal shows lure viewers (A favorite card game of mine parodies one particularly popular version as “The Animal Bothering Show”). These images were captured by a remote rover operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where presumably one very cool member of the staff thought to include the soundtrack. Anyone know where it’s really from?

So let’s talk about this particularly cool creature, Lampocteis cruentiventer. Their stomachs are always blood red; their bodies may come in various shades of the color. They can grow up to about 6 inches long — about the size of a hand — and they swim from about 1,000 to 3,300 feet down. That’s pretty deep, but not abyssal. Still, they probably never see much of the light of day.

Which, strangely enough, explains their brilliant red coloring. Red light is filtered most efficiently by water, and after traveling a few hundred feet down, there is very little left. Thus organisms that are red will appear gray or black in the deep, like a hole in the water. Thus, many deep sea creatures, when illuminated by explorers’ lights, appear lurid red.

Now let’s say, for the sake of argument, you live in the dark and like to eat things that glow. But dang it, you’re transparent! Now breakfast is causing you a bit of a problem that cannot be solved by Rolaids. Solution: encase your stomach in the undersea version of air raid curtains — red pigment. Hence the bloodbelly. (Although it does sound a bit like a better name for a grizzled jazz musician: “Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Blood Belly and tonight I’m going to play a little number for you I like to call . . . “)

Comb jellies are ctenophores (“ten’-o-fours”), which have eight cilia-bearing (small beating filaments) combs called ctenes with which they weakly swim. Whenever I have been lucky enough to visit an aquarium, I have spent many long minutes fogging up the glass staring at the undulating cilia of comb jellies. It’s a fascinating riot of colors and textures. The cilia make these the largest creatures to swim by such a mechanism, and give them a superficial resemblance to overgrown Paramecia. Both jellyfish and ctenophores have two cell layers separated by a gooey center, the mesogloea (mes-o-glee-a). This is a chief way they differ from us “higher” animals, who have a fancy middle layer we’ve parleyed into stomachs, livers, brains, gall bladders, spleens, appendices, giblets etc. Go us!

Comb jellies can also have two long tentacles. Instead of the famous stinging nematocysts that true jellyfish bear on their tentacles, comb jelliesĀ  have sticky cells called colloblasts that rupture to release glue that captures their prey. They then retract the tentacles to bring their food to their mouths. Unlike jellyfish, which have a single opening to serve as mouth and anus (thank GOD evolution didn’t stick that particular system in vertebrates), ctenophores have one opening at the mouth and two at the back, though all three may serve when nature calls.

Scientists, as with most groups, are fighting constantly about how cnidarians(jellyfish, corals, and friends), ctenophores, and every animal more complex (usually referred to as a group called “Bilateria”, all the mirror-image symmetry animals) are related. As it’s a fight that’s enormously complicated and still ongoing, I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say, they ARE related. Here is one possible family tree.

One final note — ctenophores are also clearly an inspiration for the creatures in the 1989 movie “The Abyss“, a sci-fi classic you should see if you have not (though many in the know urge finding the director’s cut). A personal favorite. See here and here for some striking examples.

Discovered via Deep Sea News.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Inspiration: Bloodybelly Comb Jelly « Pour Porter
November 17, 2009 at 7:52 am
The Ciliated Oceanic Conveyor Belt of Doom
October 31, 2010 at 4:55 pm

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jasper October 24, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I can’t believe that creature is real – it’s awesome! and it’s scale-invariant, something very popular with us physicists: it could just as easily be the alien mothership on its way to Earth…

so what are the landing strips for? attracting prey i’m guessing?

Oroboros October 25, 2009 at 8:49 am

I saw an “animal bothering show” last night – Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr. I mainly watched it because the description mentioned mantis shrimp. While I learned more about how it delivers its punch, I was still disappointed they left out the other cool details.

The mantis shrimp probably deserves its own show, with a soundtrack. And I usually find myself rooting for the crocs when Brady starts poking them with a stick.

Jennifer Frazer October 26, 2009 at 10:16 am

The “landing strips” are the combs. They’re lined with cilia (little hairs) that help the thing drift in a slightly less than random fashion.

And yes, Oroboros, who wouldn’t root for the crocs? What do you expect them to do if you poke them with a stick? : )

Captain Skellett October 29, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Wow, that is very cool. Nice explanation on the blood belly as well, would never have thought of that! It’s like the cone of silence for your snacks.

Jennifer Frazer October 30, 2009 at 9:02 am

Excellent Dune reference Captain Skellett!
*golf clap*

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