Jellyfish Life

Jellyfish turn into shapeless blobs of jelly on land but can withstand water pressure at depths that would crush a human being. They have simple bodies and really no brains, but they have adapted to glow in the dark in deep water, to incorporate algae into their bodies to gain more food, and to live life upside-down if necessary. Different species live in the ocean depths, float near the ocean surface, hide beneath the roots of water trees, and even live in sand. Take a tour of different kinds of jellyfish to learn their amazing facts.

Upside-Down Jellyfish have decided to live upside down with the umbrella-part of the jellyfish bumping along the sea floor. They live in the roots of mangrove trees, tropical trees that have evolved to place their roots in salt water. Algae, tiny marine plants, live in the tentacles of this jellyfish. The algae need light to create food for both the plant and the jellyfish, so the jellyfish swim upside down to expose their tentacles and the algae to light. The babies of this jellyfish look like tiny badmintons that are only about 3 mm tall.

Interstitial Jellyfish defy the jellyfish stereotype of a floating lifestyle. These stationary jellyfish live between grains of beach sand or mud.

Palau Jellyfish seeking a new place to live found a saltwater lake in the middle of the island. Either suddenly through a geologic event or slowly as the source of the water closed off, the lake became separated from the rest of the saltwater, and its jellyfish became trapped. Soon the jellyfish ate all of the food in the lake, but they adapted to live off the energy produced by algae in their tissues (much as upside-down jellies do). To act as good gardeners and care for their algae, they follow the sun across the lake daily and drop to the nitrogen-rich depths at night.

Deep Sea Jellyfish cling to deep-sea cliffsides. These are the stable, suburban jellyfish as opposed to the drifters.

Thimble Jellyfish, almost totally transparent, have no eyes or brains but know to stick together in a colony. Together, a floating colony can cast a shadow over a whole coral reef.

Spotted Jellyfish are coffee-colored due to the presence of brownish algae that create food for the jellyfish in a symbiotic relationship. It is fascinating to see through the jellyfish to identify the color of the algae that lives inside.

Crystal Jellyfish are almost invisible in the water and sadly have begun truly to vanish in the bays and estuaries of the West Coast.


For me, jellyfish symbolize drifting and floating, going where the currents go. However, I might dislike not having control over my life!

The many unusual shapes, colors, and even bioluminescent properties of jellyfish remind me of Christmas ornaments, living decorations. An example is the rainbow pattern created by the cilia refracting light on a comb jelly. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's new exhibit showcases jellyfish as living art by juxtaposing tanks of living jellyfish with abstract artwork and the flowing glasswork of Dale Chihuly. But does this make us forget to respect the jellyfish as the living animals that they are? They are almost too decorative for us to think of them as animals.

Home Wildlife Viewing Tidepools Ocean Animal Database