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Hawaii home to many kinds of jellies

The Waikiki Aquarium breeds and displays several types of jellyfish

By Nina Wu

LAST UPDATED: 2:25 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Hawaii is home to several types of jellyfish other than the infamous box jellyfish that sting swimmers after a full moon.

Saucer-shaped moon jellies and lagoon jellies with milder stings swim through the islands' harbors, lagoons and canals.

"I think most jellies, if not all jellies, have the ability to sting," said Kelley Niide, sea jelly expert at the Waikiki Aquarium. "It's just the degree of the sting, which depends on the food source."

She said most people would barely feel the mild sting of a moon jelly unless they have very sensitive skin.


Box Jelly (Carybdea alata)
Where: South shore of Oahu seven to 10 days after a full moon.
Description: Mostly clear, with bells up to 3 inches long and 2 inches wide with four long tentacles that hang from each corner of the bell.
Sting factor: Watch out; these guys have a potent sting.

Lagoon Jelly (Mastigias sp.)
Where: Kaneohe Bay and Pearl Harbor.
Description: Brownish tan, though some may have a blue coloration to them; round bells with white spots; up to 5 inches in bell diameter.
Sting factor: Very mild sting.

Moon Jelly (Aurelia sp.)
Where: Harbors and lagoons around Hawaii.
Description: Clear and saucer shaped with short tentacles wrapped around bells, which get up to about 12 inches in diameter.
Sting factor: Very mild.

White spotted Jelly (Phyllorhiza punctata)
Where: Ala Wai canal, usually during the summer months and possibly Pearl Harbor.
Description: Brown, sometimes blue with white spots on their bell, which can reach up to 20 inches in diameter.
Sting factor: Very mild.

Upside-down Jelly (Cassiopea sp.)
Where: Harbors and lagoons around Oahu; they rest on the bottoms of shallow areas bell side down and oral arms up, hence the name.
Description: Color ranges from brownish-tan to brown with blue; bells are round and flat with bushy short oral arms; up to 12 inches in diameter.
Sting factor: Mild; if disturbed they can release free-floating nematocysts (stinging cells) into the water.

Source: Kelley Niide, Waikiki Aquarium


The strength of the toxin is tied to what the jellyfish eat. For example, moon jellies eat very small zooplankton and don't need a powerful sting to get them while box jellyfish eat small fish and crustaceans and need a more powerful weapon to stun their prey.

Jellies typically have a short life span, but they can reproduce efficiently.

Male and female jellies release sperm and eggs that join together to form a flattened planula that swims and settles at the bottom of the ocean, attaching to a rock or shell and becoming a polyp that can reproduce asexually, creating multiple baby jellies all on its own.

Because of this polyp stage, aquariums are able to culture jellies without the complexities of breeding adult jellyfish in their tanks.

If you want to see lagoon jellies and moon jellies without venturing into the ocean, you can find them at the Waikiki Aquarium.

The Waikiki Aquarium breeds lagoon jellies and Atlantic sea nettles, which are not found in Hawaii.

On the Net

Track box jellyfish invasions at

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