Comb Jellies

Comb Jellies (click image to view larger)

What a find! My son and I recently hit the jackpot while exploring the tidal Slocum River on Massachusetts’s southern coast. There in the brackish water, among feeding barnacles and clam siphons protruding from the muddy bottom, we spied them: floating, iridescent, pulsating jellies! At first one, then two, and when our eyes adjusted to deciphering clear bodies in the water column, twenty or more. They ranged from dime-sized to golf-ball sized and we watched them, mesmerized, until hunger sent us in search of lunch.

I later learned that comb jellies are not jellyfish. Though they share some characteristics—like gelatinous bodies made of two major cell layers—these ancient creatures hail from distinct phyla: comb jellies are ctenophores, jellyfish are cnidarians. Comb jellies are propelled through the water not by propulsion, but by the action of thousands of tiny cilia that line their bodies. When light is refracted by the moving cilia it results in a beautiful rainbow of pulsating light.

This journal page is my attempt to capture the experience and also serves as field notes for learning about comb jellies. (Stillman & Birn Beta journal, 5.5×8.5, watercolor, ink, and alcohol to create the textural effect.)

Life Between the Tides

11_Intertidal-Sketch
“The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place.” —Rachel Carson, 1955

No visit to the rocky coast of Maine would be complete without exploring and sketching in the watery realm where land meets sea. Here, a fascinating world of plants and animals awaits discovery. Creatures of the Intertidal Zone are uniquely adapted to live both underwater and high and dry for hours each day as the tide rises and falls. Only the most hardy and adaptable survive – and they do it with remarkable tenacity.

Sketching conditions are a little challenging. I typically bring just sketchbook and a single pen (and, if I remember, a magnifying glass, shallow pan, and bandana to dry my hands after poking around in cold saltwater). A long scramble over slippery seaweed and barnacle laden rocks is required to reach the most diverse pools. I work fast, always mindful of the turn of the tide, and sketch species as I find them, building out the page as I go. Later, I add a wash of color. The end result not only captures species found, but records for me each moment of discovery while at the edge of the sea.