A recently published paper about stinging jellyfish snot got lots of attention, from publications like National Geographic, Forbes and Newsweek as well as on social media. The Aquarium's own Jennie Janssen—assistant curator of Blue Wonders, responsible for Shark Alley, Atlantic Coral Reef, Blacktip Reef, Jellies Invasion and the Culture Lab—was part of the team behind it.
Jennie explains that the study came about because the Aquarium is fortunate to have a strong working relationship with researchers from the Department of Invertebrate Zoology at the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
"We have what I call research play dates," Jennie says, "where we visit each other's institutions and basically geek out together for a few hours."
It's a great match. Jennie and her team inherently know so much about animals' behaviors because they see and care for them day in and day out, but they rarely have the opportunity to write and publish papers to share what they know. By coming together with colleagues at the Smithsonian, they're able to make important connections.
"In 2017, the Smithsonian team was here at the Aquarium and, as we were walking through Jellies Invasion, I offhandedly mentioned getting stung by the stinging cells in the jelly snot—a well-known phenomenon among jelly aquarists," she recalls. "The researchers' interest was piqued; it was time to break out the microscopes."
Once they realized that nothing in current literature thoroughly described the phenomenon of stinging water around jellies, they joined forces to change that. Over the next three years, they collaboratively studied the stinging-cell structures (or cassiosomes) in the mucus of upside-down jellyfish. The Aquarium supplied polyps from our Culture Lab and examined other species in our exhibits, finding similar stinging cells to be present. Jennie also helped prepare the manuscript for publication.
The paper, published in Communications Biology, outlines how some species of jellyfish can sting without touching their prey, thanks to their ability to launch venom-filled mucus grenades. "I think the research resonated in part because so many people have an innate fear of being stung by jellyfish," Jennie said, "and it's unsettling to know that you can get stung without even touching them.
"Also, talking about stinging snot and mucus grenades is just too fun to pass up."
Read the paper about the cassiosomes research study in Communications Biology.