Creature Feature: Velella velella


Photo by Stephanie Hansen

Photo by Stephanie Hansen

This month’s round of Creature Features is going to focus on unique and eye-catching organisms known as jellies.  I’m not talking about the strawberry kind that goes great with peanut butter (though now I’m a little hungry).  I’m talking about what you may commonly refer to as “jellyfish.”  We scientists prefer the term “jelly” since the organism we are going to discuss is not a fish at all!  Aside from not possessing common characteristics of fish, like scales, spines, and oogly eyes, jellies are not fish because they fall into a whole different category of marine animal.  Fish are what scientists call nektonic, or free swimming, whereas jellies are planktonic, which means drifters.

Does that word sound familiar?  It should!  Planktonic has the word “plankton” in it, which is exactly what jellies are!  Plankton cannot control where they move in the water and while jellies are able to move in a pulsating movement using there bell, the current will always direct them where to go.

velella 2 Stephanie Hansen

Photo by Stephanie Hansen


Let’s learn about a jelly that has been getting a lot of publicity and has even been on the news for the past few weeks.  “By-the-wind sailors,” or Velella velella (say that 10 times fast!), get their name from the distinctive way they look and move. This species of mobile hydroids (in the same category as jellies, anemones, and corals), contains a float that is a round oval shape and a beautiful bright blue color. On the round disc is a “sail” made up of chitinous material. Chiton is a nitrogen-containing cellulous that creates a somewhat transparent substance and is the main component of an exoskeleton, or outer body structure. The wind will catch the sail and direct the little vellela in the direction that is proper for the alignment of the sail.

velella Andre Yee

Photo by Andre Yee


As the Veleela velellas travels with the current, they are able to feed on their prey. Small tentacles hanging off of the float allow this small creature (they only grow up to 10cm!) to paralyze its prey using nematocysts, or stinging cells. The diet of the velella consists of zooplankton, such as copepods, and fish eggs.  So, next time you walk along the coast and see a line of blue gooey or dried masses, you now know it is the beautiful and fun-to-say Velella velella!



Check out this spiced blueberry jammin recipe!



Edited by: K.C. O’Shea





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