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Jellyfish are free-swimming members of the phylum Cnidaria. Jellyfish are found in every ocean, from the surface to the deep sea. Some hydrozoan jellyfish, or hydromedusae, are also found in fresh water. Most of the information about jellyfish that follows in this article is about scyphozoan jellyfish, or scyphomedusae. These are the big, often colorful, jellyfish that are common in coastal zones worldwide.

Jellyfish don’t have specialized digestive, osmoregulatory, central nervous, respiratory, or circulatory systems. They digest using thegastrodermal lining of the gastrovascular cavity, where nutrients are absorbed. They do not need a respiratory system since their skin is thin enough that the body is oxygenated by diffusion. They have limited control over movement, but can use their hydrostatic skeleton to move through contraction-pulsations of the bell-like body; some species actively swim most of the time, while others are passive much of the time. Jellyfish are composed of more than 90% water; most of their umbrella mass is a gelatinous material – the jelly – called mesogleawhich is surrounded by two layers of epithelial cells which form the exumbrella (top surface) and subumbrella (bottom surface) of the bell, or body.

Jellyfish do not have a brain or central nervous system, but rather have a loose network of nerves, located in the epidermis, which is called a “nerve net.” A jellyfish detects various stimuli including the touch of other animals via this nerve net, which then transmits impulses both throughout the nerve net and around a circular nerve ring, through the rhopalial lappet, located at the rim of the jellyfish body, to other nerve cells. Some jellyfish also have ocelli: light-sensitive organs that do not form images but which can detect light, and are used to determine up from down, responding to sunlight shining on the water’s surface.

Jellyfish are, by the nature of their life cycles, “bloomy”. Their presence in the ocean is usually seasonal, responding to the availability of prey, which is seasonal in most places, increasing with temperature and sunshine in the spring and summer. Ocean currents tend to congregate jellyfish into large swarms or “blooms”, consisting of hundreds or thousands of individuals. In addition to sometimes being concentrated by ocean currents, blooms can furthermore be the result of unusually high populations in some years. The formation of these blooms is a complex process that depends on ocean currents, nutrients, temperature and ambient oxygen concentrations.


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