Abyssal comb jelly

(Beroe abyssicola)

This predator’s pretty pink color is clever camouflage.

The abyssal comb jelly (Beroe abyssicola) patrols the midnight zone searching for its favorite food—other comb jellies. When Beroe finds another comb jelly, it opens its mouth wide. Rows of tiny hair-like cilia in its mouth act like teeth to help it take a bite of its prey, though sometimes a hungry Beroe will simply swallow its meal whole! 

This predator prowls in dark depths where most animals can produce bioluminescence. A glowing gut would invite the attention of other predators. The crimson color of the abyssal comb jelly’s stomach absorbs the light produced by bioluminescent prey, keeping Beroe camouflaged.

MBARI researchers have learned that gelatinous animals like Beroe have a large impact on deep-sea food webs. Our archive of nearly 28,000 hours of deep-sea video contains hundreds of observations of deep-sea animals feeding. Examining these observations in detail revealed that jellies, comb jellies, and siphonophores are important as both predators and prey in the ocean’s midnight zone.

Fast FactsA pale purple abyssal comb jelly with twinkling rainbow comb rows

Maximum size: 7 centimeters (3 inches)

Depth: surface to 2,800 meters (9,200 feet)

Habitat: midwater, from surface to twilight (mesopelagic) and midnight (bathypelagic) zones

Range: Arctic Ocean and northern Pacific Ocean

Diet: other comb jellies

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Research publications

Christianson, L.M., S.B. Johnson, D.T. Schultz, and S.H.D. Haddock (2021). Hidden diversity of Ctenophora revealed by new mitochondrial COI primers and sequences. Molecular Ecology Resources, 00: 1-12. doi.org/10.1111/1755-0998.13459

Choy, C.A., S.H.D. Haddock, and B.H. Robison (2017). Deep pelagic food web structure as revealed by in situ feeding observations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284: 20172116. doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.2116

Francis, W.R., N.C. Shaner, L.M. Christianson, M.L. Powers, and S.H.D. Haddock (2015). Occurrence of isopenicillin-n-synthase homologs in bioluminescent ctenophores and implications for coelenterazine biosynthesis. PLoS ONE, 10(6): e0128742. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128742 

Gasca, R., R. Hoover, and S.H.D. Haddock (2015). New symbiotic associations of hyperiid amphipods (Peracarida) with gelatinous zooplankton in deep waters off California. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 95(3): 503-511. doi.org/10.1017/S0025315414001416

Haddock, S.H.D. (2004). A golden age of gelata: Past and future research on planktonic ctenophores and cnidarians. Hydrobiologia, 530: 549-556. doi.org/10.1007/s10750-004-2653-9 

Haddock, S.H.D. (2007). Comparative feeding behavior of planktonic ctenophores. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 47(6): 847-853. doi.org/10.1093/icb/icm088

Puente-Tapia, F.A., R. Gasca, A. Schiariti, and S.H.D. Haddock (2021). An updated checklist of ctenophores (Ctenophora: Nuda and Tentaculata) of Mexican seas. Regional Studies in Marine Science, 41: 101555. doi.org/10.1016/j.rsma.2020.101555

Winnikoff, J.R., T.M. Wilson, E.V. Thuesen, and S.H.D. Haddock (2017). Enzymes feel the squeeze: Biochemical adaptation to pressure in the deep sea. The Biochemist, 39(6): 26-29. doi.org/10.1042/BIO03906026

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