WHITLEY COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — When people think of jellyfish, they also likely think of salty breezes, sand between their toes and waves crashing onto beaches.
However, with a little luck, jellyfish can even be found in northeast Indiana waters.
This week, a WANE 15 viewer provided a photo of a freshwater jellyfish in Crooked Lake in Whitley County.
While freshwater jellyfish share some physical characteristics with their marine counterparts, one big difference separates the species: freshwater jellyfish cannot sting humans.
“The sting can’t actually pierce through our skin. It’s not strong enough,” said Nathan Bosch, Ph.D., Creighton Brothers Endowed director of the Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams.
The Lilly Center, a research and education center based at Grace College, had the rare chance to study freshwater jellyfish in 2022 after a supporter of the Lilly Center found them in a pond.
“We responded with our research team, took some samples, brought some of the jellyfish back here, and we were able to study and observe them,” Bosch said.
The reason freshwater jellyfish sightings are uncommon is because they appear in bodies of water sporadically and rarely in the same location for consecutive years, according to the Lilly Center.
A mature freshwater jellyfish only lives for a few months, but before becoming fully mature, they exist in a coral-like “polyp” form and attach to the lakebed for many years until the conditions are just right for the polyps to fully mature, according to the Lilly Center.
“They create little clones of themselves — kind of a little clone army, if you will — and they can stay in that stage for up to 15 years,” Bosch said.
Bosch said one thing researchers still hope to learn about freshwater jellyfish is what conditions cause them to become fully mature.
“We know that they only do that when conditions are right, but we don’t know exactly what makes the conditions just right,” Bosch said. “There seems to be some indication it could have something to do with water temperature, but you can go for years and years and not see them, and then all of a sudden they pop up in a lake, and that’s a really interesting phenomenon.”
Although freshwater jellyfish are native to China, they are not considered an invasive species, according to the Lilly Center.
“They just seem to live right alongside our native species,” Bosch said.
However, Bosch still recommended people leave freshwater jellyfish alone and not transport them to other bodies of water.
“Even though we don’t have any evidence right now that suggests that they’re disruptive, we don’t want to be the first ones to find some of that disruption,” Bosch said.
Instead, anyone who comes across freshwater jellyfish should report the sighting to either the Lilly Center or the DNR.
Freshwater jellyfish live in calm waters such as ponds, lakes, quarries and slow-moving streams, Bosch said.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there have been 101 sightings of freshwater jellyfish in Indiana from 1998 to 2018, including in DeKalb, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Steuben and Wabash counties.
*Video provided by the Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams