Thimble jelly

Linuche unguiculata

ORDER Coronatae

FAMILY Linuchidae

TAXONOMY

Linuche unguiculata Schwartz, 1788, American Tropical Atlantic.

OTHER COMMON NAMES None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The medusae grow only to 1 in (2.5 cm) in height. As the name implies, they are thimble-shaped, with a shallow groove near the top of the bell. They have eight very short tentacles and eight rhopalia alternating between the 16 lappets at the bell margin. The outside of the bell is transparent, with numerous warts of stinging cells. The inner part of the bell is white with greenish brown spots. The polyps form colonies and are covered by a thin, chitinous sheath.

DISTRIBUTION

This species lives in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide.

HABITAT

The medusae occur near the surface in near shore waters in spring and summer, which is unusual for coronate species. Polyps occur on coral rubble.

BEHAVIOR

The thimble jelly usually is found in large groups, up to 0.6 mi2 (1 km2) in area, just beneath the surface. They are very active swimmers, moving horizontally in circles. Surface convection cells cause them to become concentrated, and their swimming behavior helps them remain in an aggregation.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The medusae catch a variety of zooplankton prey on the lappets. The colored spots in the bell are filled with intracellular algae (zooxanthellae) that transfer some of their photosynthe-sized carbon to the medusa, contributing to the animal's nutrition.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

The fertilized eggs of the thimble jelly form large larvae that remain planktonic for three to four weeks. They settle and form an unbranched colony of polyps. Each polyp can produce an unusually large number (up to 40) of ephyrae that grow into sexually mature medusae.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN.

Thimble Jellyfish Larvae

I Linuche unguiculata I Haliclystus auricula

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Stings from the planktonic larvae or medusae of the thimble jelly cause the syndrome called "seabathers' eruption." The problem is aggravated when they become trapped underneath a swimsuit. This syndrome, characterized by a prickling sensation and red bumps persisting for 7-12 days, is an irritating but not a dangerous condition. ♦

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