These jelly-like blobs, seen along beaches on the East Coast of the United States, look quite like jellyfish. However, they’re not. They are salps, and they harmlessly wash up on shores in clumps in the summertime.
Sometimes referred to as “jellyfish eggs,” salps are actually not related to jellyfish at all. The only common features between salps and jellyfish are that they are both gelatinous and both float in the ocean, said Larry Madin, executive vice president and director of research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, speaking to National Geographic.
Salps are tunicates and have a sort of backbone, which jellyfish do not have.
While small-sized salps are sighted often on beaches, there are actually about 50 species of salp native to all parts of the world. They can grow to be up to 30 centimeters long (1 foot).
And they have an unusual means of reproduction. They can bud asexually, which means that one salp can create a connected chain of hermaphroditic clones. Sometimes reaching lengths of up to 15 meters long (50 feet), these chains form in different patterns, such as a wheel or a double helix chain.
When these salp chains do break apart, the individuals turn into females with one egg each, which are fertilized by males of previous generations to create an embryo. While the embryo grows inside, the mother salp then grows testes to fertilize other eggs from other generations until her baby salp is born and the cycle continues.
The salp’s cloning and reproduction system is very quick, says Madin, and the resulting genetic material soup keeps the salp’s populations healthy.
Salps voraciously eat algae blooms in order to persist in cloning. The specific algae that they consume uses carbon dioxide to grow. So when the salps eat the algae, they also eat all of that tasty gas, too. Pooping out large fecal pellets that sink to the bottom of the ocean means that the salps effectively remove carbon from the carbon cycle.
"It's one way of trying to balance out how much CO2 is in the atmosphere," said Montclair State University’s director of the marine biology and coastal science program Paul Bologna to National Geographic.
So these small gelatinous blobs could even be helpful in combating climate change.
[H/T: National Geographic]