Feeding ecology and diet

All scyphozoans feed with tentacles or tentacle-like projections that have millions of microscopic intracellular organelles called "nematocysts." Some nematocysts act to

Moon jellies (Aurelia aurita). ┬ęShedd Aquarium. Photo by Edward G. Lines, Jr. Reproduced by permission.)

paralyze or kill the prey, whereas others entangle them. Stau-romedusae catch prey by the tentacles and fold the arm inward to bring the prey to the mouth. Many coronate medusae do not swim actively while feeding but instead remain nearly motionless with their tentacles extended above the bell. For semaeostome and rhizostome medusae, the pulsations of the swimming bell force water through the tentacles and create vortices that may bring prey into contact with the tentacles and oral arms. For semaeostome medusae, when a prey item is immobilized on a tentacle, the tentacle contracts and transfers the prey to an oral arm. The prey is moved by cilia up the inside of the folded oral arm to the mouth and into one of the four gastric (stomach) pouches, where short, fingerlike projections wrap around the prey and secrete digestive enzymes. For rhizostome medusae, prey capture is by the small tentacles on the oral arms, which transfer the prey to one of the many small mouths nearby.

Most species feed on small crustaceans that predominate in most habitats. Stauromedusae consume epibenthic crustaceans, including gammarid amphipods and harpacticoid copepods. Medusae in the other orders primarily eat abundant calanoid copepods but also eat other small zooplankton, such as cladocerans, larvaceans (= appendicularians), and chaetognaths. Many semaeostome species also feed on other gelatinous species, including scyphomedusae, hydromedusae, siphonophores, and ctenophores. It is of particular interest that several species are known to consume the eggs and larvae of fish. Thus, scyphomedusae may be detrimental to fish populations, both by consuming the zooplankton foods needed by fish larvae and zooplanktivorous fish species, like herring, and by feeding on the young fish directly.

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