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Baby Lobsters Treat Jellyfish Like Edible Cars

For moon jellyfish, lobsters are the worst passengers ever. When jellyfish give them a ride, the lobsters express their thanks by devouring them.


In nature, unlikely species form mutually beneficial relationships that can seem bizarre and wonderful to humans: Birds clean crocodile teeth, fish clean shark skin and anemones provide shelter to clownfish.

That's not the kind of relationship moon jellyfish have with baby smooth fan lobsters.

Smooth fan lobsters (Photo Credit: Open Cage)

When lobsters are just phyllosoma, the scientific word for lobster larvae, they get rides from moon jellyfish. Sounds innocent enough. But as they travel, the phyllosoma eat away at the jellyfish, devouring them neatly from bottom to top.

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Nathaniel Scharping of Discover puts it like this: "It’s like taking an Uber everywhere, only the car is made out of chocolate."

That sounds like the life, to be honest. But to more accurately convey the violence of the exchange, you'd be eating your Uber driver too. We haven't read the Uber bylaws lately, but we have a feeling their drivers don't sign up for this, and neither do moon jellyfish.

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But the lobsters do have to deal with the consequences of their actions: After eating their chauffeurs, they have to walk. Or find a new jelly.

As they're being chewed on, the jellyfish do try to fight back by shooting mucus at the baby lobsters. But the phyllosoma are ready. They use their legs as windshield wipers to clear off the mucus so they can continue chomping.

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Aren't jellyfish poisonous, you might be wondering? They are — and phyllosoma aren't immune to their venom. In a study to figure out how lobsters can digest jellyfish, researchers in Hiroshima injected lobsters directly with the venom. Those lobsters didn't even know what hit them.

Scientists found the answer, which they published earlier this month in the journal Plankton and Benthos Research, by cutting through the crap, literally. When they analyzed the lobsters' feces, they found that the jellies' stinging cells were each wrapped in a peritrophic membrane, which kept the toxins from reaching their bodies.

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