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Pet Jellyfish Facts: Upside Down Jellyfish (Cassiopeia Xamachana)
Upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopeia xamachana) are another member of the Rhizostomae order. The species name xamachana means Jamaican, although their habitat is by no means exclusive to Jamaican waters. Populations exist throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as along the Florida Keys. They are also present halfway across the globe in the Pacific Ocean. Although not native to these waters, upturned jellyfish were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands during World War II, most likely from jellyfish polyps that became attached to the underbelly of warships returning from the Philippines.
This species is prevalent in shallow, warm tropical waters such as mangrove swamps. They are often called mangrove jellyfish because they are often found in large clusters in these swampy areas. Unlike many species of jellyfish, upside-down jellies are completely marine. None were found in brackish or fresh waters.
These jellies spend their lives quite differently than most jellyfish. Jellyfish usually spend most of their time drifting freely on ocean currents. Upside-down jellyfish swim freely until they reach about 2 cm. Then their bell flips over and they sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. From there, they spend most of their adult lives upside down on the muddy substrate with their tentacles pointing upwards to capture ubiquitous zooplankton from the water columns.
Like blue jellies, upside-down jellyfish have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae. This is the same symbiosis that occurs in many species of jellyfish and coral. In addition to providing essential nutrients, these golden algae also produce oxygen that helps support the respiratory metabolic functions that jellyfish need to survive in oxygen-poor environments. This is especially important for upside-down jellyfish, as they spend the vast majority of their lives nestled in the muddy substrate and must rely on their food to reach them. Because of their specialized feeding habits, upside-down jellyfish are typically found in nutrient-rich waters with high concentrations of decaying matter that support zooplankton teams in these marshy, saltwater environments.
Upside down jellies have flat, saucer-shaped bells. Their umbrellas are typically green-gray or blue in color. They have a central depression or umbrella in the bell. The exumbrella acts as a suction device that helps them stay anchored to the ocean floor. Instead of a single mouth opening, they have 4 elaborately branched mouth arms. These shoulders have a ruffled, lacy appearance similar to many green leafy vegetables. Because of these appendages, they are often referred to as cabbage jellyfish. The species is thought to be a filter feeder and also relies on some form of absorption of dissolved nutrients directly from the water to supplement its nutritional needs.
Upside-down jellyfish do not directly inject their prey like most jellyfish. Their nematocysts (stinging cells) are controlled by a cnidocile. This is the equivalent of a mechanically or chemically triggered grenade launcher. Stinging cells released from the cnidocil produce a cnidoblast that stuns or paralyzes prey in close proximity. The jellyfish then begin to devour their prey through their primary mouth openings. Once the prey is reduced to food fragments, these nutrient particles are passed to the secondary mouth for further digestion.
Jellyfish cnidoblasts also function as a self-defense mechanism. If there is a sudden disturbance, large groups of these jellies shoot up from the ocean floor and release their nematocysts. This massive release of venom into the water is usually enough to repel potential predators. A toxic compound is generally insignificant to humans. May result in itching or tingling of the skin or a rash in individuals more sensitive to the venom.
Upside-down jellyfish can reach up to 14 inches in diameter in the wild. In captivity, a maximum growth potential of 8 inches is more realistic. Depending on their size in captivity, upside-down jellyfish may be fed zooplankton or small invertebrates and fish. In order for their symbiotic algae to photosynthesize properly, a lighting system leading to the sea reef tank is highly recommended. These jellies have a higher temperature tolerance than most scyphozoan jellyfish. Jellyfish or adult jellyfish can be found throughout the year. However, the optimum temperature for these adult jellies is between 75-78 F. This simulates the height of the adult season. Upside down jellyfish usually strobe during the summer or early fall. While most scyphozoans strobilate during the winter months.
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