Ten Things You Need to Know About Jellyfish, Our Gelatinous Frenemies

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One day you're floating in the ocean, playing "spot Lady Gaga" among the billowy tropical clouds. The next thing you know, something has enveloped your outstretched hand. It feels like a plastic bag. But when you look down, you realize you're surrounded by purplish orbs the size of dinner plates. Indeed, the jellies are here again, clearing beaches from Fort Lauderdale to the Keys. So in light of their miraculous reappearance, we asked marine biologist Monty Graham what ten things we need to know about jellyfish.

1. They're hungry.

They might look like old boob implants in search of their owners, but jellyfish are voracious. The two most common types in Miami are the round moon jelly and the Portuguese man-of-war, also known as the "blue bottle" for its gaseous pouch. While moon jellies eat plankton, men-of-war can use their long, trailing tentacles to catch fish as large as five inches.

2. And mindless.

Without a nervous system, jellies have little idea what they're latching onto. It could easily be you.

3. Pee is a placebo.

Some Pacific jellyfish are deadly, but South Florida jellies are lightweights. Like alcohol, however, the volume of jelly venom makes all the difference. Here's what to do if stung: Pull the tentacle off immediately. The stinging toxin is already in your bloodstream, so splashing yourself with urine, meat tenderizer, or sand won't help much. "I usually tell people to do whatever makes them feel better," Graham says. "If that means a little bit of your buddy's pee, go for it."

Wash your hands. Jelly toxin might not be strong enough to seep through the thick skin on your hands, but it will mess you up if you touch your eyes or face.

4. You can chow down!

Some jellies are edible. Cannonball jellyfish are often caught in the Carolinas and shipped to southeast Asia. Here's how to prepare the meaty, volleyball-size creatures for export: Cut away the "bell," like popping the cap off of a mushroom. Lay it in a bath of alum and salt, which pulls the water out of the jelly and leaves a tough, rubbery patty. Cut into strips for packaging. Once in Asia, they're rehydrated, fried until noodle-like, and dumped atop a salad. Yum.

5. They are growers, not showers.

Most jellyfish are small and unassuming, but holy crap do they grow. So quickly, in fact, that massive schools of them "bloom" in a matter of days. This explains why they aren't diluted by ocean currents but instead wash up all at once and spoil your sexy beach time. Jellies grow so rapidly that they can wreak havoc on fishermen. Japanese shrimp boats have capsized after accidentally scooping up tons of the creatures.

6. They are immortal, kinda.

Most jellyfish live only a few weeks or a couple of months. But a few types can revert to their larval, or "polyp," stage indefinitely, meaning one jelly can more or less live forever.

7. They make crappy pets.

They grow like they're on steroids, die within weeks, eat voraciously, and constantly run into the walls of their tanks. Worst pets ever? Not in Japan, where people often keep individual jellies at home. "They are pretty high-maintenance, so you have to have a gentle touch," Graham says.

8. You've got sea lice.

South Floridians might not admit it, but most have had sea lice. The itchy, stinging creatures are actually microscopic larvae of thimble jellyfish found in the tropics. They like to get under swimsuits, causing "sea bather's eruption" -- but not the happy kind.

9. They feel no pain.

That's no reason to torture them, though. If they aren't bothering you, leave them to die on the beach, where they nourish the ecosystem.

10. They fight cancer.

Jellies aren't evil. In fact, scientists have used phosphorescent jelly genes to track cancer growth.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.