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Jellyfish — swimmers’ new BFFs?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

By Becky Fenson

Swimming is my passion. I learned to swim when I was 7 years old and have been drawn to the water ever since. I love it all—sprinting, long-distance swimming and everything in between. I once swam the English Channel, and I’ve swum around Manhattan Island numerous times.

But if there’s one thing that will get me out of the water, it’s jellyfish. While most swimmers shun jellies in order to avoid their painful stings—1,800 people were stung by mauve stingers off the coast of Florida over Memorial Day weekend—I’m more concerned about harming the jellyfish. I know that a misplaced stroke can easily damage a jelly’s delicate body. And now there’s another reason to give jellies their space: New research shows that these animals are far more complex than we ever imagined.

As a recent article in the New York Times reported, we now know that box jellyfish possess a complex visual system that allows them to navigate the murky swamps in which they live. Some of box jellies’ 24 eyes—yes, 24 eyes per jelly—are relatively simple and respond to light and shadow. But box jellies also have eyes that are surprisingly similar to our own—with lenses, retinas and corneas—that unerringly point skyward. Click to continue »