Meet the Shapeshifter of the Sea, Deepstaria Jellyfish

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s live interpretive art. Underwater, that is. Dubbed the shapeshifter of the sea, it changes form before your very eyes.

This shifty jellyfish transforms from something resembling a hip lava lamp lighting up the deep – to an eerie Halloween ghost haunting the murky depths – to a thin plastic bag floating aimlessly along in the current.

The morphing shapes put on a can’t-look-away show for lucky spectators. And just as you settle in for further inspection, the mind-boggling jelly shape melts, morphs, and mesmerizes yet again.

Excited marine biologists aboard the Ocean Exploration Trust vessel, Nautilus, lucked up on a chance encounter with the mysterious shapeshifter, aka the Deepstaria Jellyfish, during a deep-sea exploration mission near Southwest Baker Island, a remote island in the Pacific. With the help of their Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), they were able to get a close-up look at one of the deep’s most fascinating creatures and its changing identities. During this chance meeting caught on video, the marine biologists marvel at the jelly’s unique abilities. Their intrigue and curiosity are infectious as they speculate on what the changing shape may be thinking or how it may catch its prey.

As the jelly expands, then squishes, then flattens, and then expands again, one of the biologists muses in wonder…

“I think it’s any size it wants to be.”

The Deepstaria Jelly was originally discovered in the 1960’s when Jacques Cousteau happened upon one while exploring the deep blue in his submersible, the Deepstar 4000 (also the inspiration for the jelly’s name). This shapeshifter, capable of expanding and changing its shape, lives around 3000 feet beneath the sea’s surface and is found in the ocean depths of the Antarctic, the Pacific, and the Gulf of Mexico. It has no visible tentacles, and its thin bell is covered in a geometric network of interconnected canals that are thought to be the digestive tract. A bright red structure can sometimes be seen through the jelly’s translucent bell. What looks like an enchanting glowing heart is actually a squatter…a red isopod, or segmented crustacean, that has taken up residence inside the shapeshifter’s bell. The iso-squatter moves in, eats its unsuspecting host from the inside, and uses it as a shelter from other predators. This lousy house guest, as it turns out, is more gloom than glamour.

That host, though…a beautifully magical creature possessing the ability to change into any size and shape it wants at will. You guessed it. We’re just a lil’ jelly of this jelly.

CHRISTY (CHICK) HUGHES is a freelance writer living in South Walton. She and her husband moved to the beach back in 2000. One sunset…and the couple never looked back. They’ve been 30A–lovin’ locals ever since.

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