J is for Jelly-ish
This incredible photo is by Henry Jager on Flikr.
It is of a chain of jelly-like salps – such beautiful creatures, which can appear like pulsating jewelled necklaces in the water.
They look very like jellyfish and propel themselves in much the same way, contracting their tube-like structure and expelling water behind them, in fact they have one of the most efficient methods of travel in the animal kingdom. They also eat a similar diet to jellyfish, mainly phytoplankton.
But they are tunicates, like sea squirts. Their nervous system is one of the most primitive found by scientists, and as larvae, they possess a backbone – and are therefore very distantly related to humans. Or we are very distantly related to them.
They are rather interesting creatures – they live in non-coastal areas where there is enough phytoplankton and can reproduce asexually by cloning into long chains, growing at an incredible 10% rate of body length per HOUR, reaching 15 feet in length.
When they are gathered into chains they can then reproduce sexually. The young are nurtured within the chain body and fed via a placenta. When the embryos are mature they are released as solitary salps that form buds that can become chains themselves.
Then, incredibly, the female mother chain becomes male.
Salps are very numerous and in some years can ‘bloom’ like jellyfish into enormous numbers. Their fecal matter, and their bodies when they die, fall to the sea floor, locking up huge amounts of carbon. This could be very important for helping mitigate global warming – however, these tunicates need clean water to survive, their feeding net becomes clogged and they sink and perish if they are in water containing inorganic particles – which is why they don’t live near the coast.
If we mess up the oceans too much this could upset the balance of salps and increase the risk of global warming to a great degree.
Another reason to take care not to litter our oceans so it doesn’t affect our planet’s sealife.
Here is my sea salp poem – and below that, a beautiful National Geographic video of a chain of sea salps.
The sea salp
in the sea’s
a tube-like jelly
(all ocean roaming)
and then chains
(once they have mated)
can change their sex
and they are,
we’re told, related –
to you and me.
© Liz Brownlee
Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.