jellyfish lighter cigarette fire

Jellyfish Lights Cigarette

Using jellyfish as a lighter

I haven’t smoked for decades and have no intention to ever smoke again, but as a young student I was silly enough to think it was “cool” to work with a cigarette between one’s teeth.

And that’s what happened in South African waters on that memorable day of May 9th, 1967, when I used a jellyfish to light my cigarette. I am confident that in the whole world I am the only person who has ever used a jellyfish to make fire (and it had nothing at all to do with the fact that jellyfish can give you a nasty ‘burn’ when their tentacles brush against you). No, the reason was this: the shape of certain species of scyphomedusae almost perfectly approaches that of a bi-convex lens and on that day mentioned above at around 10.30 our trawler’s net spilled thousands of these saucer-sized, disc-shaped and absolutely transparent jellyfish on deck of our vessel, where they glistened in the sun.

That gave me the idea to test whether their bodies would focus sunlight to a spot, hot enough to ignite some dark paper. When that worked, I focused the “jellyfish lens” onto the brown tobacco of my cigarette and lo-and-behold lit it! Jellyfish have of course the nasty reputation of causing burns, but not because they are hot, but because they possess nematocysts, microscopic venom containing syringes on their tentacles that will release their burning poison when being touched. That characteristic of theirs is perhaps the reason why the general public finds little interest in these “blobs of water” (for with 96-98% of their body weight being water, this is what they really are).

Still, they belong to a fascinating phylum of radially symmetric animals, which are so low on the evolutionary ladder that they have not yet ‘invented’ separate openings for food intake and waste expulsion. On the other hand, despite their primitiveness, many species have separate sexes, possess sensitive gravity sensors, chemoreceptors, and even eyes. They can determine the direction of the currents, sense the depth they are swimming at, perceive different light intensities and, of course, distinguish edible from inedible material – all without a brain.

They are, however, rather slow and feeble and depend on their venom to overpower prey, which for the vast majority of the species consists of small pelagic fish and zooplankton organisms. Some deep-sea forms are known to turn upside down in order to catch and then ingest the detritus “raining down” from above. All but one or two species of jellyfish are inhabitants of the oceans, from the tropics to the poles, the most famous exception being the rare freshwater medusa Craspedacusta sowerbii, a graceful, thumbnail-sized creature that was first described from a water tank in London’s famous Kew Botanical Garden at around 1880, but since then has sporadically appeared in many parts of the world, including New Zealand. It is thought that originally it came from South America.

Although I am pretty sure that none of the readers of this essay will ever have an opportunity to use a jellyfish to light a cigarette, there is a good chance though that some will taste jellyfish if they visit Japan, for there jellyfish served as “kurage” are considered a cheap and tasty food, safe to eat, for it definitely does not burn your tongue.

individualism coral jelly fish community

Interested by jellyfish? Click here for reading “Individualism – is there anything greater than that”

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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