Sunny side up: the fried egg jellyfish

How do you like your eggs? If it’s not ‘being imitated by a jellyfish’ then you’re in the wrong place.

glowing egg
It’s easy to see where fried egg jellies get their name from

Some animals are so distinctive in shape, size and colour that we can’t help but see similarities between them and things from our everyday lives. Marine biologists in particular are known for doing this, with a long list of food inspired names for newly discovered species. Such as the lettuce sea slug, banana wrasse, chocolate chip sea star, lemon shark, potato cod and pineapplefish to name just a few. But whilst a lot of these names are fairly inaccurate in properly describing their assigned species, the fried egg jellyfish couldn’t really be called anything else. It actually refers to two different species of jellyfish, Phacellophora camtschatica and Cotylorhiza tuberculata, both of which sport a smooth translucent bell that has an elevated yolk-yellow bell at the centre. But as well as looking adorable (and a little bit tasty) these floating egg jellies are also very interesting.

Egg-cellent jellies  

Despite both looking like a giant egg that’s been cracked into the ocean and sharing a name because of this, the two species of fried egg jellies actually have very little in common. The first Phacellophora camtschatica is a very large jellyfish with a bell diameter of up to 60cm and tentacles that can reach up to six metres in length. Those tentacles form in 16 clusters of up to a dozen tentacles which are specialised for helping them catch and eat other jellyfish. To do this they are very sticky and often collect tiny plankton and detritus which means they are almost always found with tiny juvenile jack fish nibbling away at them. This is only possible because their sting is actually incredibly weak and so the jack fish are not scared away. P. camtschatica are found across the world and like most jellies move by passively riding ocean currents.

fried egg jelly
The much larger P. camtschatica showing off it’s yolk-like bell alongside its many sticky tentacles

On the other hand Cotylorhiza tuberculate, the other species of fried egg jellies, is much smaller in size than its gigantic cousins. Its bell only grows to a width of around 30cm and its tentacles are short, stubby and much more interesting. Unlike most jellies who use their tentacles to sting, C. tuberculate and its club-like tentacles actually have arm-mouth openings and can open up to trap small prey and phytoplankton, although they also has a weak sting as well. The end of their tentacles are also purple in colour because they contain zooxanthellae, the same photosynthetic algae which live inside corals. Unlike P. camtchatica they are also able to swim by pulsating their bells and because of this they can often pick up hitchhikers like fish and even crabs that sit underneath their bell but above the tentacles. However whereas its cousins can be found worldwide C. tuberculate are only found in the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Aegean Seas. You can check them out in action below.

Short shelf life

The other major difference between the two species of fried egg jellyfish is lifespans. The larger P. camtchatica has a rather typical lifespan for a jellyfish capable for spanning several years. Whereas C. tuberculate will only live for a max of six months between summer and winter. It is thought that this unusual behaviour is driven by their extremely seasonal environments as they only seem to be able to reproduce in warm waters. It is very unusual as their offspring will not start to fully develop until the summer after they die off meaning from winter to summer they are almost non-existent.

out of water
C. tuberculate look potentially even more like a fried egg when you take them out of the water

A tasty treat?

Although a jellyfish that looks like a popular food item is a very comical coincidence, it is also symbolic of a much more important issue. With a skyrocketing global population of humans that need feeding, finding new healthy and reliable food sources is more important than ever. Although Jellyfish can be up to 95% water they are also a fantastic source of protein and other key nutrients and vitamins. Not only that but jellyfish are one of the few marine species that are actually thriving in today’s oceans and often bloom to excess, even washing up on our shores, making them an ideal food source. In some parts of the world jellyfish are already a big part of the diet of coastal communities and there is now a big push to try and get more westerners to try it out for themselves. But like with trying to get people to eat more insects, that’s easier said than done.

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