- Scientists have managed to train a jellyfish to detect and avoid obstacles
- The study challenges previous notions that learning in this way requires a brain
As brainless, stinging masses, many may assume that jellyfish are worlds apart from humans.
But scientists now suggest that these wobbly creatures are more like us than we initially thought, thanks to their incredible ability to learn from past experiences.
No larger than a fingernail, the Caribbean box jellyfish houses a complex 24-eyed visual system that allows them to recognize obstacles while navigating through mangrove habitats.
The landmark discovery, presented by the University of Copenhagen, challenges previous notions that centralized brains are essential for animals to process complex thoughts.
‘It’s amazing how quickly these animals learn; “It’s about the same pace as advanced animals do,” said Associate Professor Anders Garm.
Scientists claim to have managed to train a jellyfish to detect and avoid obstacles
“Even the simplest nervous system appears to be capable of advanced learning, and this could turn out to be an extremely fundamental cellular mechanism invented at the dawn of nervous system evolution.”
Caribbean box jellyfish, or Tripedalia cistophora, are tiny creatures that thrive in warm, tropical waters.
While the sting of many species of box jellyfish is fatal to humans, the Caribbean variety will only cause pain for a couple of days.
As part of the latest research, published in Current biologyExperts attempted to explore whether the jellyfish could undergo “associative learning.”
This refers to the process in which organisms form mental connections and sensory stimulations.
For example, among humans this could be remembering that hot stoves are dangerous and painful to touch.
To put this to the test with a jellyfish, the scientists decorated a round tank with gray and white stripes to simulate its natural habitat.
In this case, the gray stripes imitated “distant” mangrove roots from the jellyfish’s perspective.
Initially, scientists witnessed the fish colliding with these “distant rays” quite frequently, but this seemed to change after a period of 7.5 minutes.
Caribbean box jellyfish, or Tripedalia cistophora, are tiny creatures that thrive in warm tropical waters.
Study of jellyfish challenges previous notions that complex learning requires a brain
As part of the latest research, published in Current Biology, experts sought to explore whether jellyfish could undergo “associative learning.”
By then, the fish increased its average distance to the wall by about 50 percent and its contact with the wall was reduced by half.
Scientists believe this is due to the species’ visual sensory centers, known as “rhopalia.”
Each of these unusual structures controls the jellyfish’s pulsating movement, which increases in frequency as it avoids obstacles.
In light of this, the team now hopes to delve deeper into the mind of a jellyfish and better understand its ability to form memories.
“If you want to understand complex structures, it is always good to start as simple as possible,” added Professor Garm.
“By looking at these relatively simple nervous systems of jellyfish, we have a much better chance of understanding all the details and how they combine to perform behaviors.”