In 2022, an extremely rare species of box jellyfish was sighted off the coast of Queensland, Australia, by divers who filmed the majestic marine creature. This is only the second time this type of jellyfish has been in front of a camera. The footage is now helping researchers better understand this elusive creature.
The striking video shows four distinct groups of tentacles trailing behind a translucent body covered in ring-shaped spots of various sizes. A bright red organ can be seen inside the center of the bell, which is most likely the gastrovascular cavity, the jellyfish’s primary organ of digestion and circulation.
The rare spotted box jellyfish (Chirodectes maculatus)
This huge jellyfish is known as Chirodectes maculatus, which means ‘spotted’ in Latin. It’s a type of box jellyfish, named so after its body shape.
They’ve got no fewer than 24 eyes of four different kinds. In 2011, scientists at the University of Copenhagen showed that at least four of these eyes always peer up out of the water, irrespective of the way the rest of the animal is orientated.
“Instead of having a single pair of general-purpose eyes like most other animals, box jellyfish have several different types of eyes used for special purposes,” said lead researcher Anders Garm of the University of Copenhagen.
“This means that each individual eye type is dedicated to support only a limited number of behaviors. The eyes can then be built to collect precisely the information needed, minimizing the need for further processing in a big brain. The automatic orientation of the upper lens eyes to constantly look through the water surface is a clear example of this.”
The size of a mature box jellyfish can vary depending on the species. On average, it can have a box-shaped body measuring up to 20 cm (8 inches) on each side, making it about 30 cm (12 inches) in diameter. Its tentacles, on the other hand, can extend up to an impressive length of 3 meters (10 feet). In terms of weight, it can reach up to 2 kilograms (4 and a half pounds).
Box jellyfish: some of the most venomous creatures in the world
Box jellies are famous for having tentacles covered in biological booby traps known as nematocysts — tiny darts loaded with venom. People and animals unfortunate enough to be injected with this venom may experience paralysis, cardiac arrest, and even death, all within a few minutes of being stung.
The Australian box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) is widely considered the most venomous marine animal in the world. This isn’t any ordinary venom but rather a sophisticated chemical cocktail designed for efficient predation and self-defense.
When contact is made, the venom takes effect almost instantly. It acts like a thief in the night, swiftly hijacking the victim’s nervous system. Suddenly, every signal your body sends is rerouted, causing unimaginable pain, heart complications, and, if left untreated, potentially even death.
Luckily, the rare Chirodectes maculatus doesn’t seem to be venomous, based on a 2005 study that described a specimen caught and preserved 25 years ago. Initially, this study classified the box jelly as Chiropsalmus, but it was later moved to the genus Chirodectes following other considerations by the scientific community, according to Vice.
“That something so large and conspicuous in appearance would only be seen twice is pretty surprising,” Dr. Allen Collins, a zoologist and curator for the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of Natural History, told Vice Motherboard. “But that said, a lot of diversity is rare. It tells me that we still have a lot of exploration to undertake.”
This is a reminder that there’s much about life in the oceans we still haven’t discovered yet. Who knows what we’ll uncover next?