Tiny yet toxic jellyfish have flocked to Jersey Shore with researchers discovering nearly 300 clinging jellyfish in Barnegat Bay in past few weeks.
While the spider-like clinging jellyfish are as small as a coin, they are incredibly toxic with a powerful sting that can leave its victims writhing in excruciation.
Their larger-than-usual presence in the Jersey Shore waters could mean more stings for swimmers in the area in the upcoming summer months.
Toxic Jellies At Jersey Shore
Paul Bologna of the Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences Program at Montclair State University explained to Asbury Park Press that the latest jellyfish count from the Metedeconk River and northern Barnegat Bay showed higher populations of the species than in previous years.
Experts believe it's likely that there are much more lurking beneath the surface.
"When we're finding hundreds, or 500 of these, it really means that there are thousands and tens of thousands of polyps (or baby jellyfish) ... out in the local waterways," Bologna said.
Clinging jellyfish typically come out at night in shallow, low-velocity waters, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. During the day, these marine stingers cling to vegetation and shells.
While their tentacles are not long like other jellies, they have plenty — 60 to 90 — that stretch up to 3 inches long.
These tentacles are the source of the clinging jellyfish's agonizing sting. While the pain of other jellyfish species stings wears off with time, the pain from a clinging jellyfish sting can get even worse over time. Bologna explained that the species is armed with two sets of venom, with the first one meant for paralysis and the second a neurotoxin.
Mary Carman, a marine ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, described the pain as similar to "being injected by five hypodermic needles simultaneously."
A Rising Population
Carman and her colleagues have been observing and tracking clinging jellyfish for the past few years, according to a WHOI report. In a study published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records, they revealed that the species is becoming increasingly abundant in the Northwest Atlantic and even in more locations globally.
The study authors suggested that the clinging jellyfish have been hanging on to boats to invade new locations, since clusters have been found in a cove with a public boat ramp. Since the species are tiny and are known for "clinging" capabilities, WHOI biologist Annette Govindarajan said that they could easily hitchhike on boats without being spotted.
Additionally, clinging jellyfish are believed to be capable of cloning at some stages of asexual reproduction, which could make it easier for the species to spread.
"As we analyzed the sex ratio of our samples, we discovered that all of the jellies collected at Edgartown Great Pond were male," Govindarajan continued. "This is consistent with the possibility that this particular population is clonal, and that asexual reproduction is contributing to their spread."