They may be boneless and brainless, but the jellies still haven’t worn out their welcome at Shedd Aquarium. The special exhibit, which debuted in April 2011, has just been extended through 2014. I spoke with special exhibit collection manager Mark Schick, who offered five compelling reasons to give these less-than-cuddly creatures a second look. 1. You’ll see jellies that are off the wall. Literally. “[Jellies] don’t know what walls are,” Mark explains. “They don’t really comprehend solid walls, so they can’t bump into [them] very well. They get beat up.” Because of this, each tank has a special circulation system that keeps the jellies in constant motion away from the walls—a huge design challenge, Mark admits. But whatever they lack in wall comprehension, the jellies more than make up for in appetite and appearance. The comb jellies eat up to 10 times their body weight each day, and the Japanese sea nettles are a sight to behold with prey-grabbing tentacles that can trail up to 10 feet behind them. 2. You’ll get an awesome new Facebook cover photo. The goal of the exhibit, Mark says, is to alter visitors’ perceptions of these pulsating creatures, which generally range from “that sandy blob on the beach” to “that thing that’s going to sting you when you get in the water.” And it seems to be working—most visitors are shocked by the actual beauty of the jelly. “People stand in front of the exhibit with cameras for hours at a time,” Mark says. “We see lots of pictures posted on Facebook.” Your shutter finger will get a workout as you move from tank to tank, trying to capture the myriad shades of the blue blubber jelly or the otherworldly glow of the umbrella jelly. 3. You won’t see the same jelly twice. Many of the jellies have extremely short lifespans—some barely last a month. Because of this, the Shedd staff is constantly replenishing the tanks with newborn jellies bred largely in-house, though they do source several species from the wild. Repeat visitors won’t just be seeing new jelly. They’ll also be seeing new species. The exhibit usually keeps about 13 species on display, rotating them seasonally. In early spring, the Shedd will receive some exquisite Japanese spider jellies (also known as hairy jellies thanks to their tufts of thin, hair-like tentacles). The spider jellies are only on display for one month each year, making them a rare sight for visitors. 4. You can put an end to the pee jokes. Mark and his staff are often asked how to neutralize jelly stings—a perfectly fine question, were the questioners not always smirking. “It always comes back to peeing on yourself,” he sighs. But the joke is apparently on them, as this technique doesn’t actually work. The best way to neutralize a sting is to rinse it with vinegar or very hot water—as hot as you can stand. “This helps denature the proteins in the venom,” Mark explains, and he should know. Just about every one of the Shedd’s jelly handlers has been stung at one point, despite wearing protective gloves. Reactions can vary from person to person, Mark says, but fortunately none of the jellies they keep are deadly. 5. It just might make you hungry. You may walk away from the jellies exhibit with a deeper understanding of the incredible beauty and fascinating lifecycles of these sea creatures. Or you may just want to eat them. If so, one of your options is rubberband salad, a Chinese delicacy that incorporates blue blubber jellies. Diners generally describe the dish as “crispy, but elastic.” If gazing at these hypnotic creatures whets your appetite, you can try some for yourself without leaving the city. Moon Palace Restaurant in Chinatown serves jellies with turnip as an appetizer, and Lao 18 on the Near North Side features shanghai jellyfish as an entree. Photos courtesy of Shedd Aquarium.
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