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Today, life on Earth is so diverse, it covers so much of the planet that you can find places like this lake, where it’s effectively its own sealed ecosystem. It’s salt water, it’s connected to the sea, but it’s only connected through small channels through the rock. So that means that the marine life in here is effectively isolated, like these Golden Jellyfish.

This is the Golden Jellyfish, a unique subspecies only found in this one lake on this one island, in the tiny Micronesian republic of Palau. They used to live like most jellyfish, cruising the open ocean, catching tiny creatures, zooplankton, in their long tentacles.

Golden Jellyfish

But, today their tentacles have all but disappeared because the Golden Jellyfish have evolved to do something that very few other animals can do.

Golden Jellyfish Unique Relationship
Golden Jellyfish

It really is incredible. There are, I want to say millions of jellyfish, as far as you can see, all the way down till the light vanishes there are jellyfish. And you can see they’ve congregated in the sun.

If you go over there, to where the lake is in shade, there are just none. They are in this pool of light, beneath the sun.

There are millions of them. Beautifully elegant things just floating around. I’m not being unduly hyperbolic, it’s quite remarkable.

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This lake is home to over 20 million Golden Jellyfish. Whose success comes down to a remarkable adaptation.

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Symbiotic Algae

Their bodies play host to thousands of other organisms, photosynthetic algae that harvest energy directly from sunlight. The jellyfish engulf the algae as juveniles, and by adulthood algal cells make up around 10% of their biomass.

Grouped into clusters of up to 200 individuals, they live inside the jellyfish’s own cells. The Golden Jellyfish uses algae to get most of its energy from photosynthesis.

They go to the surface and gently, oh wow, there is one there. They are gently turning. The reason they do that is to give all their algae an equal dose of sunlight. So they are quite democratic creatures, just making sure they get as much food as they can.

They tell me they don’t sting. But I’m sure I’ve got a tingling from it. And it’s not just their anatomy that is adapted to harvest solar energy. Every morning as the sun rises, the jellyfish begin to swim towards the east. As the sun tracks across the sky, they move back again towards the west, where they spend their night.

Photosynthetic Energy

So the jellyfish have this beautiful, intimate and complex relationship with the position of the sun in the sky. As sunlight is captured by their algae, it is converted into chemical energy. Energy they use to combine simple molecules, water and carbon dioxide, to produce a far more complex one. Glucose.

Elegant Jellyfish
Elegant Jellyfish

Once absorbed by the jellyfish, glucose and other molecules not only power their daily voyage across the lake, they provide the basic building blocks the jellyfish use to grow the elegant and complex structures of their bodies.

So the Golden Jellyfish, through their symbiotic algae, absorb the light, the energy from the sun, and they use it to live, to power their processes of life. And that’s true, directly or indirectly, for every form of life on the surface of our planet.

But, things are a little bit more interesting than that, because energy is neither created nor destroyed. So life it doesn’t eat it somehow, it doesn’t use it up, it doesn’t remove it from the universe. So what does it do?

The Jellyfish may have a remarkable life story. But, in Sagada the spirits of the dead can explain the fundamentals of life on Earth: the tale is expanded upon.

External Links

Photosynthetic Energy Encyclopedia Britannica

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