Unravelling the life of the meanie

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A pink meanie has been found hiding in the jellyfish display in the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. This jellyvorous predator made its presence known after consuming all other species on display.

The team caught the pink meanie while collecting nightlight jellyfish in the waters around Robben Island and in Cape Town Harbour. A pink meanie ephyra (the free-swimming baby form of a jellyfish) hid among the arms of the nightlight jellies, and over a few short days it grew to its metaephyra stage (teenager jelly).

The exciting discovery provided jelly expert Krish Lewis with the perfect opportunity to study its life cycle. “Based on the two pink meanies we’ve had on exhibit we’ve learned that they prefer true jellyfish (Scyphozoans) like moon jellies (Aurelia sp.) or compass jellies (Chrysaora sp.) as food. They do not like eating box jellies (Cubozoans) and don’t eat other sea creatures like hydrozoans, ctenophores and salps,” Lewis says.

The pink meanie. D Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium

The pink meanie also exhibits the behaviour of fishing for jellies. “The meanie sits at the top of the tank using its bell like a suction cup, and contracts and relaxes its tentacles, dowsing for jellies. It can also do this mid-water, ‘fighting’ the current and extending its tentacles, fishing for its food,” Lewis explains.

The team goes out to sea on a weekly basis to collect specimens for display. With jellyfish, they generally collect a species once off and then breed them in the laboratory, but they have not been able to crack the code on box and comb jellies yet.

They have not yet unravelled the mysteries of the pink meanie either. Meanies seem to appear around June in the wild and seem to last six to eight months on exhibit. “We are still testing to see if the meanie can procreate, but it’s very hard to do tests when you just have one precious animal,” says Lewis.

Generally, jellies leave mats of polyps on the sea floor and release spawn when captured, which then create new jellyfish.

The pink meanie jellyfish on display.
Photo: D Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium

The pink meanie in the aquarium is special as it is the only known member inhabiting cold water. They are usually found in the warm waters of Mexico and the Mediterranean. The first Mexican specimen was only discovered 19 years ago. The pink meanie in Cape Town was only the second to end up in the aquarium.
South Africa has an amazing diversity of jellyfish, and more species continue to be discovered.

Written by René de Klerk 

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