Thursday, 8 September 2016

Squish Goes the World

This is the crystal jellyfish, also called Aequorea aequorea in my day, but since patriotically retaxonated Aequorea victoria. I took these pictures last weekend while out on the bay. The bottom one tells the larger tale: these creatures have fairly choked the lower Sound. (The large white mass at the top of that photo is a solid block of Aequorea, extending how far into the depths only they know.)

And it's not just here. Jellyfish – direct descendants of the earliest animals ever fossilised – have exploded in all the oceans of the world.

When I was a kid we'd get this sort of thing once every few years. My grandmother called it a "jellyfish raid", and I vividly remember catching several participants in a jar to marvel at during one when I was about 10.

But this isn't that. To start with, where those raiders of old averaged less than two inches across, most of these start at four and move up from there. In other words, the raids of my childhood were caused by a temporary fertility spike, prodded by what intermittent stimulus I never learned. Whatever's behind the new status quo is actually sustaining these extreme populations throughout their life cycle.

Aequorea have been a favourite of mine since I stared into that jar on the wooden arm of my grandmother's old Morris chair. In addition to the simple beauty of their glasslike, gently-undulating cloche, and the added wonder of bioluminescence, they're completely harmless. Nobody larger than plankton ever got stung by Aequorea victoria.

Which is why it pains me to look on them now with discontent. Along with the sudden surge in size and number of lion's manes (which I've also documented here), it's a compelling sign that we've finally cocked up this planet so badly it's headed back to the Cambrian.

And there weren't any people in the Cambrian.

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