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Introducing the Atlantic Bay Nettle

Until recently, it was thought that the Chesapeake Bay’s iconic jelly species was an Atlantic sea nettle—but according to recent research, these invertebrates are a separate species from their ocean-based counterparts.

Published January 11, 2018

If you frequent the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months, you likely recognize the jelly with an opaque white bell and long, trailing tentacles—and aren’t soon to forget the painful sting that accompanies an encounter. For the past 170 years, these jellies have been known as Atlantic sea nettles, Chrysaora quinquecirrha—but a recent paper published in the PeerJ journal says otherwise.


According to researchers from the University of Delaware, Smithsonian Institution and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the nettles found in the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay and coastal bays are a separate species than those found out in the Atlantic Ocean. 

In addition to visual discrepancies between the ocean-based and bay-based species—including differences in bell diameter, oral arm length and number of tentacles—DNA testing revealed that the two species are genetically distinct. 

It was previously believed that the difference in the number of tentacles was due to different development stages of the Atlantic sea nettle. Advancements in DNA technology, however, have allowed scientists to dig deeper and find genetic differences revealing two distinct species. 

The Atlantic bay nettle’s scientific name, Chrysaora chesapeakei, gives a nod to the Chesapeake Bay, but these jellies can also be found in the brackish waters of coastal bays along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. 

Visit Jellies Invasion to see the Atlantic bay nettle on exhibit!

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