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Ctenophores (Comb Jellies)


Ctenophores, or “comb jellies” are gelatinous marine animals, similar to jellyfish but lack stinging cnidae, therefore harmless to humans.  They occur throughout the ocean (between 100 and 150 species globally), at all depths and are mostly planktonic, though a few are benthic (Mianzan et al., 2009).  Comb jellies may be abundant during the summer months along coastal locations, but in others they can be uncommon and difficult to find. In bays where they occur in high numbers, comb jelly predation may help to control populations of zooplankton such as copepods, which might otherwise wipe out the critically important phytoplankton (planktonic plants), which are a vital part of marine food chains (Mills, C.E., 2010, Ruppert et al., 2004).  Three common species occurring in New Jersey waters are Leidy's Comb Jellies (Mnemiopsis leidyi) (range: from Cape Cod to the Carolinas, common in Chesapeake Bay), Ovate Comb Jellies (Beroe ovata), and Sea Gooseberries (Pleurobrachia pileus) (Galiano 2008).

Comb jellies are voracious predators, consuming zooplankton of various sizes such as fish eggs, copepods, amphipods, and larvae. Some, like the Beroida, feed on jellyfish, salps, and other ctenophores (Mianzan et al., 2009). Most species are also hermaphroditic, meaning that one individual can produce both eggs and sperm. Prey are captured using a pair of retractable tentacles fringed with tentilla that are covered with sticky cells (“colloblasts”). Movement is achieved via "combs" as opposed to muscular contraction, groups of cilia they use for swimming and the distinctive feature giving comb jellies their name. Most comb jellies are transparent and bioluminescent, and range in size from a few millimeters to 2 m long.


Galiano, R. 2008. Marine Invertebrates, New Jersey. Source:

Mianzan, H., Dawson, E. W., & Mills, C. E. 2009. Phylum Ctenophora: Comb Jellies. Source: 10pp.

Mills, C.E., 2010. "Ctenophores – some notes from an expert". Source:

Ruppert, E. E., Fox, R. S. & Barnes, R. D. 2004. Invertebrate Zoology: A Functional Evolutionary Approach. Seventh Edition. Thomson, Brooks/Cole.: vii-xvii, 1-963, I1-I26.

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