The features of the adult jellyfish

The adult jellyfish, though enigmatic, isn't the most popular kind of animal. However, they're a great creature for creatives. Their calm and careless way of living, and their various physical traits are not only amazing for creature designs and storytelling, but are also very popular in ocean-themed babyrooms. For those with a true love for jellyfish there are lamps, sculptures, christmas decoration and much much more. Adult jellyfish for creatives explains more about this wonderful creature. Its important to look at their behaviour, their diet, the way they look and move, their habitat… All in all its important to know the species inside out. Other than that, its very helpful to understand symbolism as well, as that tells a lot about how people feel about them.

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, specializing in wildlife and creature designs. I love to share my passion for nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

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How to use adult jellyfish in your creative business

When using a specific animal in a creative business you can go as wild as you like, but to make them believable it helps to take heed of their physical traits and sometimes their symbolic meanings as well. A jellyfish is an interesting animal to work with for many reasons. Some of them being their enormous variation and their many forms before reaching maturity.
When we talk about “adult jellyfish” we refer to the medusa form of jellies. Before they reach that form they go through a variety of different stages. From larva, to polyp and finally to medusae. As jellies look a lot different in the other stages, this article doesn’t cover them.
Nonetheless, it’s very useful to take these stages into account as well as they may give you some amazing ideas!

When it comes to the ‘how’, that’s up to you for the greatest part. This means that I won’t be giving you all the answers, simply because your ideas are what makes you unique. But you are here for a reason and what you will find here are facts about- and interpretations given to jellyfish, to broaden your knowledge and spark your creativity!

Different colors of jellyfish

One of the wonders of the sea. This bio-luminescent jellyfish is a gem for all creatives.

The color range of jellyfish is unlimited, no matter the color palette of your design: The jellyfish will meet it. Note that most jellyfish are (somewhat) translucent. It’s an interesting feature you may want to implement if your design allows it. There are even (fully translucent) jellyfish out there that are bio-luminescent.
Many species are multi-colored with wonderful patterns on their bells and tentacles in yet another color. Others will change color the older they become. No matter your design, there is a palette out there that will match it. Don’t be shy when using the jellyfish in your design. Go wild if your creature is a colorful one, or use muted colors when it’s a creature with great camouflage, and if it’s a cave-dweller: Go full disco!
Remember, nature is your reference, but you don’t have to follow all the rules!

The many bell-forms of jellyfish

The Portuguese Man o’ War sails the water-surface. This jellyfish is very poisonous.
Image from wikipedia.

The jellyfish is generally easily recognizable by its form. They have a round bell, usually the shape of a mushroom. But the bell can be flat, have a dimple in the middle, or have ridges, and even ‘spikes’ along its vertical line. Others have a more elongated oval-shaped bell, or even an inflated one with a point to one side, like the Portuguese man o’ war, a very poisonous jellyfish that sails the water surface. Note that there are over two-thousand known jellyfish species out there and despite their huge variety, they’re nearly always recognizable as such. Let that be a wise lesson from nature!

The artful tentacles of jelly’s

Lions mane jellyfish
Image from wikipedia.

Their tentacles can be absent or no more than tiny spike-shaped protrusions or ‘hairs’ to the side, or they can be enormous long thin threads or solid tentacles. The jellyfish with the most tentacles carries the name ‘Lion’s mane jellyfish’, it is known to have up to 1200 tentacles. These tentacles can get up to 30 meters (100ft) long and with a bit of imagination, look just like the manes of a lion.
Their tentacles can sometimes move freely. They contract at will or because of movement and they’re able to move food to the mouth. But they’re not functional the way they are for an octopus.

“Fun” fact: When something touches the jelly’s tentacles, it deploys its stinging cells (nematocysts) within 11 milliseconds, injecting painful and/or numbing toxins through them. Those nematocysts are usually microscopically small.

The intricate shapes of the oral arms

In some species, the oral arms are absolutely enormous compared to the body-size, In others, they’re delicate small tentacles. Some species have only a few oral arms, where others have many. The oral arms can be long wavy strands, the way a luxury tablecloth or dress would fold its way down, in other jellyfish they look more like curly kale and then there are those that look like elongated translucent kelp leaves. It’s absolutely worth it to google images of different jellyfish species, don’t be shy to collect all the reference you need, and more.

Left to right: Sea nettle| Sea nettle|unknown|unknown|a member of the aurelia group.
Photos provided by Unsplash, photographs left to right by: Nikolay Kovalenko | Colin Viessman, James Lee, Hanson Lu, Nikolay Kovalenko | Colin Viessmann and Lucas Doddema

The delicate edges of the jelly’s bell

The edges of the bell know many forms as well. They can be perfectly rounded or have rounded or pointy lobes from which the tentacles originate. In others, the edges curl inside. Some are nearly closed and barely show any tentacles or oral arms, this is often seen in deep-sea jellyfish, Or, you know what? Just try the Atolla wyvillei, it’s an otherworldly nightmarish and beautiful creature at the same time. I’m pretty sure the edges of its bell will describe to you what the limitations are, or the lack thereof. Not to mention the rest of its features.
Know that the edges of the bell usually contain the muscles that help the bell contract, in an effort to propel the jellyfish forward. This affects the shape of the bell and the flow of the tentacles.

Patterns found on the bell

One of many wonderfully patterned jellyfish.
Photo by Graham Ohayon on Unsplash

Just google ‘jellyfish’ and you will be nuked with images of jellyfish. You’ll see completely translucent ones and colorful jellies, but you will see many different patterns on their bells as well. There may be segmented colors, or stripes, dots in different sizes, branches, circles, marbled patterns, and more. So, no matter the pattern on your design, the jelly naturally meets it. Just remember that the pattern doesn’t make the jelly.

Habitat and behavior of adult jellyfish

Jellyfish live in both fresh- and saltwater. Most of them, but not all, are group animals, even in their youth. They don’t have a brain, which means they’re dependent on the currents and the winds and they catch their prey mostly by accident with their tentacles. Because jellyfish tend to just float around, occasionally contracting their bells to propel themselves forwards, it’s easy to imagine them being able to fly,
If you decided to use a jellyfish in your design, remember that, naturally, the mouth (and ‘anus’) is between the tentacles and uses the same route to enter and exit.
Jellyfish eat other jellyfish, which makes them cannibals, and they’re true carnivores, devouring their prey by simply dissolving them in their stomachs after catching them or paralyzing them with their nettle cells.

Symbolism

Jellyfish in a basin, beautifully illuminated. A creative expression in photography.
Photo by Vino Li on Unsplash

Jellyfish may not be a very popular animal for anything else but its physical traits, but its representing many symbolic meanings. They’re fragile, brainless creatures with many beautiful variations within their species and what they symbolize is just as remarkable.

At LtL we only describe the general symbolism of a species. We do this for several reasons: We are no experts in spiritualism or religion and many of the symbols attributed to animals overlap with each other within different religions, cultures and spiritual systems. Our goal is to describe animals in such a way that an artist can take elements of their liking, and craft something new out of them in a believable way. That can be either from physical/behavioral traits, or symbolic ones.

The following list can apply when: You (repeatedly) come across a (real or fake) jellyfish by accident and it takes a prominent place in your day,, this means that you should be making changes according to the symbolism’s of jellyfish.
If you simply really love jellyfish for what they are generally, (they’re (one of) your favorite animal(s)/spirit animal(s) etc.), you likely already apply the symbolic traits listed below.

General list of what jellyfish symbolize

  • Love – Trust your heart and follow your emotions, reach out to others with love and affection. your heart knows that love is power and strength.
  • Instinct – Believe in your own instincts and power.
  • Acceptance – Having faith in your own process and future and see yourself for who you really are.
  • Intuition – Allows your heart to follow your intuition and face difficult situations.
  • Transparency – Allows you to be able to show your emotions to the world and believe in yourself.
  • Harmony – Will help you live in harmony with nature and balance each area in your life.
  • Challenges – Helps survive in any situation, even when it seems too difficult. Relax and go with the flow.
  • Protection – Helps to avoid (repetitive) mistakes and pain.
  • Intention – Helps you to focus on goals and not waste your time and energy on things that don’t have importance.
  • Faith – The jellyfish is a sign or self confidence and success, you know everything will be good.
  • Balance – You are very flexible to any situation, you go with the flow and adapt quickly to changes, and even when you don’t manage, you know you will survive.

Dreams about jellyfish

When you dream about jellyfish you often get into a specific situation with them. These interactions have specific meanings.

  • When they show up in your dreams you may be in a threatening situation or someone is being a threat to your. You may also have a lot of things you’re worrying about.
  • They may signify a lack of self confidence and that you should believe more in yourself.
  • They may signify that you are wasting your time and you should be setting goals.
  • When you see a jellyfish in your dreams, that may mean that you feel you don’t feel heard and you should be more aggressive in expressing yourself.
  • A jellyfish in your dreams may mean that you don’t get the (emotional) support that you need from people you love.
  • Dreaming about jellyfish may mean that you should be more flexible in certain situations to make life easier for yourself and for others.
  • If you are stung by a jellyfish in your dreams, you should be thinking about specific situations you’re facing more deeply.

Symbolism

When you look at the symbolism of jellyfish, they’re often times easily connected to their traits. This is an important notion as these traits communicate information about your design as well. Most symbolic connections don’t come falling from the sky so it’s very helpful to keep them in mind.

Please note that the reason why specific meanings are applied in symbolism may be vague or lost in time. I myself fill in the gaps with the eyes of an artist. If you know more of the origin, please let us know!

  • Love – Love refers to the heart and the heart contracts when it beats. When a jellyfish contracts its bell, it resembles the same movement.
  • Instinct – Jellies go with the flow, one could say they follow their instincts and not their mind.
  • Acceptance – Jellies don’t have a mind or even a brain, all they can do is follow the winds and the currents, accepting wherever fate will bring them.
  • Intuition – Again, connected to the fact they follow the currents. They follow the currents as one would follow their intuition.
  • Transparence – This one is very obvious. Most jellyfish are (partly) transparent.
  • Protection – To help avoid mistakes and pain. One could assume that jellyfish know how to protect themselves as they’re a very successful species and, considering the fact they’re very fragile, still know how to survive.
  • Intention – Intention is like having a goal. Jellies just live, eat, reproduce and float on. You could assume that this is all their clear intention.
  • Faith – Just like acceptance, intuition, and instinct, they just go with the flow and ‘have’ the faith that the currents will bring it where it needs to be.
  • Balance – Jellyfish are mostly symmetrical and the way they float around gives a feeling of balance.

Conclusion

Alien world with flying jellyfish.
Art by Tessa Geniets

Having a mindless creature in your design is threatening to many people, like a mindless zombie. You know they don’t understand reason, you can’t communicate with them and they purely act out of necessity. Even more: Jellyfish don’t have eyes, they only have receptors in their bells that can detect light.
Tentacles freak people out as well, especially cause these tentacles have stinging cells that numb their prey.
Some species have a truly otherworldly look to them, making them an ideal reference for alien world creatures.
Having their stomachs engulf their prey, to dissolve it alive adds to their freaky nature. And having whole armies showing up at once makes them the stuff of nightmares.

However, the harmonious floating, the symmetrical form, the repetitive patterns in their tentacles and on their bells, and their wonderful colors and shapes, make them a great tool for harmonious designs as well. Make use of the other parts and pose of the creature(s) you’re using for your design and use moods, colors, and environment to communicate clearly the story or feeling you want to get across.

Make sure you do what you can to understand the species by reading about them and watch documentary’s. Any snippet of information may be the key to your wonderful design.


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