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How do you raise a baby jellyfish?

Posted at 11:56 PM, Feb 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-23 23:56:25-05

NEWPORT, Ky. -- Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish -- an infinitesimally fragile creature possessing neither spine nor brain -- thrives in some of the most dangerous environments on the planet.

Raising a jellyfish in an aquarium, however, is work as delicate as the animal itself. 

The Newport Aquarium will open its new exhibit, "Ring of Fire," in March, and moon jellyfish -- Aurelia aurita -- will play a starring role. To that end, biologist Ty Jacobson and other aquarium staff have created a special nursery to help their jellyfish grow into adults ready for display. 

"It's really their care level that's challenging," Jacobson said Friday. "I enjoy the challenge of taking care of them."

Moon jellyfish grow based on the temperature of their environment and the amount of food they receive, so animals at different stages of development are separated into different tanks, each comprising a kind of class alongside which an individual jellyfish will grow up. 

As they're transferred from tank to tank throughout their lives, they can never, ever be exposed to air, Jacobson said.

Their ultimate destination will be a recreation of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where  moon jellyfish free-float through a landscape of underwater volcanoes and oceanic trenches. It's a landscape of incredible pressure, heat and environmental challenges, but these fragile invertebrates manage just fine.

Visitors to Newport Aquarium in March will be able to see an immersive exhibit showcasing "hundreds of the animals as they float and flutter" as well as stations giving their real-life cohabitants, the giant octopus and Japanese spider crab, a moment in the spotlight.