Comb Jellyfish

Last updated: November 29, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Kondratuk Aleksei/Shutterstock.com

Comb Jellyfish Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Ctenophora

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Comb Jellyfish Locations

Comb Jellyfish Locations

Comb Jellyfish Facts

Diet
Omnivore

Comb Jellyfish Physical Characteristics

Length
0.4 in - 5 ft
Venomous
No

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Comb Jellyfish Summary

Jellyfish are some of the most fascinating ocean creatures. The comb jellyfish is named for the plates that surround its center and look like combs as it moves through the water. These combs are actually cilia, small projections of their bodies that they use to push themselves around the ocean. These jellyfish belong to a different phylum than other jellyfish. Even though they share a name and have many similar characteristics, they are not closely related. The comb jellyfish is the largest animal that uses cilia to move around, giving them a unique appearance.

Comb Jellyfish Facts

  • Comb jellyfish is the common name given to the Ctenophora phylum.
  • These jellyfish are the largest animals that use cilia to move around.
  • Because of their interesting appearance and propulsion in the water, they are popular in large aquariums.
  • Jellyfish do not have any bones, shells, or other heavy structures in their bodies. They are lightweight and around 95% water.
  • Comb jellyfish are cannibalistic and will sometimes eat their own.

Classification and Scientific name

Comb jellyfish are actually an entire phylum known as Ctenophora with between 100 and 150 named species, depending on the source. Comb jellyfish are known for their cilia, which look like combs. Some of these species live in the deep ocean and not very much is known about them. Others were given multiple names when they were first discovered until researchers later realized that they were actually the same species.

Now, Ctenophora is divided up into two classes. Tentaculata have tentacles that extend behind their jelly bodies. Comb jellyfish without tentacles are called Nuda. Some are large while others are very small. The Tentacula are further divided into eight orders based on the shape of their bodies, as well as how flat they are, types of tentacles, and other distinguishing features. There are fewer species within the Nuda class, which only has one order, one family, and two genera.

Other jellyfish belong to the Cnidaria phylum, along with sea anemones and coral. They have some different features that separate them from comb jellyfish. These include the way that they find and eat prey, as well as some aspects of their appearance.

Comb Jellyfish Appearance

Bloodybelly comb jellyfish
The cilia on the outside of comb jellyfish are arranged in eight rows, which makes them really interesting to watch.

©Takokat/Shutterstock.com

Other than the comb-like cilia that give them their name, comb jellyfish vary a lot in size and shape. Smaller species are less than half an inch long, while the largest can grow up to 5 feet. All of them have some features in common, including the cilia arranged on the outside of their bodies that they use to move through the water.

Most jellyfish have just a single layer of cells on the outside of their jelly bodies and another single layer on the inside. These jellyfish have a double layer of cells in both places. This is still very thin compared to most other animals but it is a notable difference between comb jellyfish and other jellyfish.

The cilia on the outside are arranged in eight rows. These are easy to spot and make them really interesting to watch. Large aquariums, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, have amazing jellyfish exhibits. Their tanks are backlit to show off the moving rows of cilia. The jellyfish create a mesmerizing ripple effect that visitors really love to watch. They appear to use bioluminescence to light up their cilia. However, it is actually just regular light reflecting off their bodies. Because the cilia are in different positions, they seem to glow.

Distribution, Population, and Habitat

Ctenophora species live in salt water, except for a few isolated instances where they were transported to lakes and brackish water unintentionally. They can live near the shore or in deep water, although the same species are not suited to both environments. Comb jellyfish that live in shallower water are prepared for strong tides that can move them around. They tend to have lighter and even see-through pigmentation. Deep water comb jellyfish are more likely to have bold colors. One of the most striking species is the tortuga red. This jellyfish has a dark red body with tentacles on the back.

Comb jellyfish are most common in the Atlantic Ocean and can be found near the eastern side of North and South America. They have expanded to other areas, although they do not often fare as well or develop large populations in these non-native habitats. They can be more plentiful during different times of the year, especially in coastal areas.

Predators and Prey

Some other ocean animals eat comb jellyfish, although they have to eat quite a few to get any sort of sustenance. Because jellyfish are mostly water, they don’t fill up predators quickly. Jellyfish often eat other jellyfish, and you can even see Ctenophora eating other Ctenophora. One study of comb jellyfish in the Baltic Sea found that they ate their young when they didn’t have other nutrients available in their environment. In fact, scientists believed that they reproduced intentionally for creating a source of food.

All species of comb jellyfish eat other ocean animals, such as zooplankton, krill, fish larvae, and even other jellyfish. The species with tentacles use them to trap other creatures. But comb jellyfish do not sting like jellyfish that belong to the Cnidaria phylum. Instead, they capture their dinner with their tentacles, which have a sticky substance that physically sticks to their prey.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Each comb jellyfish has both male and female reproductive parts and is able to spawn on its own. This typically happens at night when the surrounding water cools. The temperature of the seawater signals that it is time to release the eggs. They lay up to 8,000 eggs. After they hatch, the young immediately start eating and growing. In less than two weeks, they are able to lay their own eggs and the cycle begins again.

Because they grow and reproduce so quickly and in such large quantities, you may suddenly see a big boom in their population. Like many similar sea creatures, they need a certain environment in order to spawn. When these conditions occur, the population can seem to explode overnight.

Comb Jellyfish in Fishing and Cooking

Unlike other jellyfish, comb jellyfish do not sting and are not dangerous to humans, but that doesn’t mean that they are a common dish. However, in areas where they are common, they have become a part of the local cuisine. They are often salted or served alongside cold, pickled salads, such as kimchi.

Comb Jellyfish Population

The population varies based on location and species. They are very plentiful in the western Atlantic Ocean. They tend to live closer to the surface and are commonly seen in bays and near the coasts. However, some species live in the deep ocean, but these are a bit harder to find and study. Comb jellyfish break apart when they come out of the water. You probably won’t see them intact washed up on the beach, like you may with other jellyfish.

Similar Fish to Comb Jellyfish

Jellyfish: They share a name but jellyfish and comb jellyfish are actually two distinct phyla. They both have jelly bodies and some have tentacles. Comb jellyfish do not sting, which is one of the things that jellyfish are best known for.

Sea anemones: These simple animals also live in similar environments to comb jellyfish. They are stationary, except for their tentacles, which they use to get food. Some species, such as clownfish, live in sea anemones.

Coral: These are invertebrates that live in the ocean. They look more like plants than animals but have complex structures and are easily damaged. They fulfill a vital role in the ocean ecosystem.

View all 212 animals that start with C

About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie is a Teaching Artist with The APEX Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and was awarded an Author Fellowship to Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She also enjoys spending time with her three kids and cat.

Comb Jellyfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do comb jellyfish sting?

No, comb jellyfish do not have stinging tentacles. In fact, some species don’t have tentacles at all. The ones that do use them to catch prey by sticking to them rather than stinging.

Can you touch comb jellyfish?

Yes, you can touch comb jellyfish without being stung or harmed. However, they can be very fragile. Many species quickly crumble apart when taken out of the water. If you want to study comb jellyfish, the best thing to do is collect them in a specimen jar or bucket that contains water.

Do comb jellyfish have brains?

Comb jellyfish do not have brains or other internal organs that you would expect to see in more complex animals. Most of their body is made up of water. This makes them very fragile but also well-suited to their marine environment.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Monterey Bay Aquarium, Available here: https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/animals-a-to-z/comb-jelly
  2. Poseidon's Web, Available here: https://poseidonsweb.com/difference-jellyfish-comb-jellies-no-sting/
  3. Live Science, Available here: https://www.livescience.com/comb-jelly-cannibal-larvae.html
  4. Hudson River Park, Available here: https://hudsonriverpark.org/the-park/parks-river-project/science/wetlab/invertebrates/comb-jellies/#:~:text=Comb%20jellies%20are%20planktonic%20predators,are%20even%20eaten%20by%20humans
  5. Chesapeake Bay Program, Available here: https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/comb-jellies#:~:text=Reproduction%20and%20Life%20Cycle&text=Comb%20jellies%20have%20both%20male,distinctive%20larval%20and%20polypoid%20stages.
  6. Smithsonian, Available here: https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/jellyfish-and-comb-jellies#:~:text=Many%20comb%20jellies%20have%20a,comb%20jellies%20don't%20sting.

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