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Spooky shapeshifting jellyfish looks like a mashup of a ghost and the Starchild

By Elizabeth Rayne
Deepstaria jellyfish

When you see a ghostly and slightly ghastly creature haunting the depths of the Pacific, you could almost swear you’re suddenly in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Starchild (Stanley Kubrick’s creepy space baby, which is pure nightmare fuel on its own) can now shapeshift. There’s only one difference: whatever this thing is, it’s real.

The life-form in question is a jellyfish called Deepstaria (speaking of the Starchild), and it’s very real. Humans have rarely glimpsed it. Now researchers with Nautilus Live, who recently ventured to the Central Pacific and plunged 2,500 feet underwater in a Nautilus research vessel, have filmed a chilling new HD closeup that captured it like never before. There’s even a surprise inside — the red glob that looks like a heart is really an isopod protecting itself from scarier monsters. Watch Deepstaria transform and you’ll be convinced this is footage from an alien planet.

By the way, to get even more sci-fi, Deepstaria was named for the vessel that first discovered its genus. It needs to be the name of the spaceship that takes us to Mars, too. As you watch Deepstaria morph, it may appear to be a ghost in Pac-Man one second, and the next, a Dementor from Harry Potter. It’s translucent. You can see its brains and the rest of its innards. Lovecraft would have been thrilled if he knew about this jellyfish, because he might have thought it was proof Shoggoths, which are also shifters, existed.

However much of a show it might put on, there is a reason Deepstaria keeps changing forms. Jellyfish are predators, and the researchers were aware that all these theatrics were really ways of expanding its body to trap anything that might creep too close. It has no tentacles for unsuspecting prey to get entangled in. Prey can be swimming anywhere, so expanding itself in every direction possible gives Deepstaria a better chance at snagging something to eat.

“Lacking stinging tentacles like other jellies, Deepstaria can close the opening of its expansive bag-like bell, trapping any prey that has floated inside,” the researchers explained on the expedition’s official site. “The geometric mesh pattern is an intricate network of canals that lead back to its stomach at the top of the bell. As the jelly can reach a large size when inflated, these channels help distribute nutrients across the entire expanse."

Wait. So how did the isopod hanging out inside this phantom manage to stay alive? Watch the Nautilus research team’s video (above) and you’ll see that the bottom-feeding crustacean, which is related to pillbugs, is wriggling around as if it has nothing to worry about. Researchers call these “resident isopods” that have been observed seeking protection inside the few Deepstaria specimens that have actually been studied. Scientists believe this is a symbiotic relationship similar to clownfish avoiding predators by hiding behind the venomous blooms of sea anemones.

“The full extent of this association is unknown, but it is likely that this small crustacean consumes pieces of jelly while remaining hidden from predators,” the team said.

 The Nautilus researchers will continue to explore the deep through October (you can even watch a livestream here), so they might come across more of these spectral jellies — maybe even on Halloween.

(via LiveScience)