The bloody-belly comb jelly is a sight to behold, but spectators at the Monterey Bay Aquarium recently saw a new side to these ctenophores as they witnessed one taking a mesmerizing dump. Sharing the magic in a Twitter post, they said the resulting footage may be “the world’s first-ever video of a bloody-belly comb jelly pooping!”
The sparkling spectacle comes as part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new Into the Deep exhibit which hopes to showcase some of the deep sea’s most mysterious animals in the largest collection of deep-sea animals in North America.
The bloody-belly comb jelly (Lampocteis cruentiventer) was first described around 20 years ago by researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) who were able to learn about them in the wild using remotely operated vehicle (ROV) footage (like that which recently captured a headless chicken monster).
Over time they were able to bring the bloody-bellies into the aquarium as they created a captive environment that mirrored the oxygen-low conditions they would experience in their natural habitat.
Their progress has meant that the world (or visitors to the aquarium, at least) get ringside seats to their daily rituals from feeding and moving to, yes, doin’ poops.
The resulting defecation display is perhaps more magical than most, as the tank’s light appears to catch the glitter-like feces as they’re expelled in a stream from the ctenophore. Lampocteis has a through-gut, meaning that even though they sit on one of the most basal branches in the tree of life, they are still equipped with a mouth and anus
“Also, the poo is sparkly… Move over unicorns!” declared the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who credit aquarist MacKenzie for capturing the momentous video.
While the bloody-belly appears vivid red in its aquarium habitat, these creatures are near-invisible in the ocean depths, an adaptation that enables them to avoid predators. This is because deep in the ocean where light can’t penetrate, reds appear black and so seamlessly blend into the dark waters.
The name bloody-belly comb jelly is a hat tip to their guts, which are a deep-ruby red. It’s thought this characteristic may help disguise the bioluminescent displays of the prey it consumes so their location isn't advertized to passing predators.
Comb jellies like the bloody-belly sit within the Ctenophora phylum, a group of marine invertebrates that can be found bobbing about oceans across the globe. They’re characterized by rows of hair-like cilia which beat as a method of swimming – they’re actually the largest known animals to get around in this way.
The bloody-belly’s sparkle is a result of these cilia as light diffracts and refracts off their transparent surface while they beat, creating a sparkling, shimmering disco vibe. These bright rows or “combs” of cilia earned them the genus name Lampocteis, derived from the Greek for “brilliant comb”.
Spectacular body plans are also, arguably, a Ctenophora trait, with other alluring examples including Bathocyroe fosteri (pictured above) and Thetys vagina, the latter of which has a wacky reproductive strategy (seriously, you gotta’ see this sh!t).