You may notice your jellies starting to curl up and move their bells in an erratic, clockwise or counter-clockwise rippling fashion instead of a normal pulse. We like to call this symptom “the Jellyfish Jig” and it indicates trouble in your tank.
The cause is linked to nerve damage in your jelly, which can arise is several ways.
-Your tank pH spiked suddenly: If you’re having pH problems in your tank, you have to adjust the chemistry slowly. If you add a ton of buffer or change too much carbon all at once, it may bring your pH up too quickly. Jellies always need to be acclimated to new conditions, even within the same system, so even though your goal is a pH of 8.0-8.2, you don’t want to get it there in a few minutes.
-Your jellies experienced sudden temperature change: If you took your jellies out of your tank for a major cleaning and dumped them right back in, or if you did your weekly change with some water from your refrigerator, that can have serious consequences for your jellies. Again, they require stable conditions to be happy and healthy. Always be mindful of temperature when your jellies are going to experience changes in their water.
-Your jellies’ food is too acidic: If you use shelf-stable jellyfish food, or you allow your frozen or refrigerated food to spoil, it can be highly toxic to your jellies. Live food is always best, frozen enriched food is a close second, but using anything below that in quality poses the risk of poisoning your system.
-Your jellies were stuck to the bottom or side of your tank for too long: If your tank flow is dialed down too low or your jellies are getting too big for their system, you may see them start to get stuck to the walls of their space like a suction cup. When this happens, they can no longer exchange nutrients and gases with their environment, so they will start to degrade. Not to mention, they will continue attempting to bell, which can lead to them pulling out their own oral arms. If you see them stuck to the sides or bottom, gently squirt some water at them with a clean turkey baster from a diagonal position to try and lift them off (be sure not to squirt all the water out because that can create problematic air bubbles). If that won’t work, gently nudge the edge of their bell with the end of the baster or another clean, rounded object.
In most cases, your jellies won’t be able to recover from this condition, but you can at least prevent it from happening to future jellies or any survivors.
Technically called “eversion,” it’s defined as the process of turning inside-out. In jellyfish, eversion is when the outer perimeter of the bell has flipped up and over the top of the bell, creating a saucer or cup-like body shape. The oral arms of the jellyfish also hang down and are not tucked up under the bell, as per a healthy jellyfish.
[Note: “eversion” is when the bell is flipped inward; “inversion” is when the bell is flipped outward. “Inversion” is commonly used instead to describe this process in jellyfish.]
Here are things that can cause jellyfish bell eversion:
Malnutrition leads to thin and weak jellyfish that are prone to flip
Flow rate is too high causing the jellyfish to spin like socks in a dryer
This prevents jellyfish from belling or swimming naturally, which means they also are not eating properly, ultimately leading to malnutrition
Flow rate is too low and the jellyfish are unable to bell properly due to the lack of “support” they get from the water movement
Belling problems always lead to eating problems—if they can’t bell properly, they can’t eat well, causing malnutrition (again) and creating thin, everted jellyfish
Physical damage that occurs when a jellyfish becomes stuck to the bottom or side of the tank for over an hour, damaging their bell
Luckily, these are all fixable issues!
Happy and healthy jellyfish should have rounded bells
Here’s how you can prevent eversion from happening:
Feed only nutritious, neutrally-buoyant foods on a daily basis to maintain proper cell growth and function
Adjust the flow rate just enough to keep the jellies off the bottom of the tank, but not so much that they are being propelled around the tank.
When trying to find the perfect flow, adjust your flow control valves and wait 20 mins between each adjustment to watch for a difference
Want to see an example of what proper flow looks like? Check out a few of our jellyfish aquarium videos on YouTube.
Maintain the proper flow rate and the jellies will not have the opportunity to get stuck for long periods of time
Read more about the physical differences between HAPPY (healthy) and SAD (unhealthy) moon jellyfish on our Jellyfish Troubleshooting page.
Although it’s quite rare, sometimes our jellyfish can have a rough transit experience resulting in them arriving in less-than-perfect condition. We take every precaution to prevent this from happening by making sure our shipping methods are as safe and protective as possible, but there still remains a bit of risk when shipping any live animals. Once they leave our doorstep, we unfortunately can’t control how they are handled by the shipping carriers.
They can arrive with holes or tears in the bell, as shown in the picture below…
…which is not what you want to see when opening up your bag of jellies! You want to be joyous and excited to get them acclimated into your jellyfish tank!
Most of the time, damage during the transit process is caused by the jellyfish becoming suctioned to a side of the bag once the package is at rest. When the package is picked up and begins to move again, the jellyfish becomes forcibly un-suctioned, resulting in them being torn away from the bag. It happens, but the good news is jellyfish are very good at repairing themselves!
“How do I know if my jellyfish is dead?” Good question. 99% of the time a jellyfish arrives in less-than-perfect condition, it’s not dead. Unless the jellyfish in question is completely mangled, balled up, or disintegrated to pieces, it’s not dead and there’s a very good chance it will get better once acclimated with good saltwater and good food.
Here’s what to do after your jellyfish are delivered:
Inspect the box and inside styrofoam for any damage. Take the bag of jellies out of the styrofoam box and read the Acclimation Instructions and Return Policy label on the lid.
Before opening the bag, observe your jellies by slowly turning the bag around to get them moving. Observe the overall condition of their bodies. If you find a jellyfish with a hole or tear in the bell, don’t freak out. Instead, take a picture of the jellyfish in question (following the instructions on the label) and email us to see if it’s a serious issue. It’s easiest to grab a photo if you hold the bag up in front of a light.
Observe their activity level. Most of the time, new jellyfish will arrive belling and ready to come out of the bag. Sometimes they can arrive sluggish, exhibit slow belling, or with retracted tentacles from the rare case of being excessively tossed around during transit. There’s nothing to worry about. Once acclimated to clean, fresh saltwater, they should perk up quickly!
***Please note: After proper acclimation, happy and healthy jellyfish do not need more than a few hours to become fully comfortable with their new environment. If your jellyfish is not belling or slow-moving for longer than 24 hours, there is potentially an issue with the jellyfish or water chemistry of the aquarium. It does not take 1-2 weeks for jellyfish to get used to the new tank water; this is a misconception.***
The video below shows the condition moon jellyfish should arrive in. Round, open bells. Untangled tentacles. These are definitely happy and healthy jellies!
There have been situations where folks started cycling their tanks and then the cycling process was interrupted for some reason. Perhaps you interrupted the cycle due to premature cleaning of the tank and/or changing of some filters or water? Or, you went out of town for a few days and the tank wasn’t receiving any food and therefore the beneficial bacteria starved and left you with a zero population? Whatever the reason, you now got back on track and finished cycling the tank. Yay! Now you finally have a zero reading for ammonia and nitrite! Great! So, you order some new jellyfish and they go bad after a few days? What is going on? You did what you were supposed to and cycled your tank. Why are your new jellyfish so sad? Read on….
If you have already interrupted the cycling process, then you need to do a few more steps before your system is safe for jellyfish. Your nitrate & phosphate levels have skyrocketed because you have prolonged the normal 4-6 week cycling process & no substantial water changes have taken place. (Remember, after your system cycles, you are supposed to do a 20% water change and then get on a weekly maintenance schedule where at least 10% of the water is being exchanged every 7 days) But, because your system didn’t cycle in a timely fashion, your nitrates and phosphates are very high–toxic. Again, although it is great that you no longer have any ammonia or nitrite in your system, your nitrates and phosphates are through the roof because you haven’t changed out any water! You may be experiencing cloudy water because of these high levels (cloudy water can also be caused by a bacterial bloom).
These high levels will cause your new jellyfish to shrink and/or fall apart. Nitrates can be removed by exchanging the old water out with new saltwater. There are some liquid drops available on the market now that will remove the phosphates, Ultralife and Phosphate Rx, but you still need to attend to those high nitrates. Best thing to do is to conduct a 20% water change every other day until your nitrates drop from 80+ppm to under 40ppm but only if your system is already fully cycled and your nitrates are over 80ppm. I know this seems extreme, but once it’s done, you’re good! Water chemistry is an art, but if you have a system that has a fully functional mechanical, chemical and biological filter in place, it will do the job for you over time once you get it balanced and eliminate those nitrate and phosphate levels that have built up over an extended period of time (over 8 weeks) while you were waiting for your system to biologically cycle.
So, to recap, if you had an extremely long period of cycling (over 8 weeks), then you need to test your nitrate and phosphate levels. If you are getting readings of 80+ppm for nitrate and/or 2.0+ppm for phosphate, you need to conduct several water changes over a week to bring them into range. You want to achieve levels of under 40ppm for nitrate and under 0.5ppm for phosphate.
If you need some assistance with this process, please email us @ firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you through it. It’s just some water changes…no big deal, really. Hang in there…you’re almost home free! Once you correct the water chemistry, your jellies will instantly start repairing themselves and get back to a healthy state.
If they do, I’m sorry to hear that, but don’t despair just yet. Once you determine the problem & fix it, the jellies can bounce back and repair themselves in no time! Here are the top 5 reasons jellyfish will start to fall apart…
1. Improper filtration and/or incomplete cycling of your filters.
2. Ammonia spike.
3. Not Acclimating your Jellyfish Properly
4. Improperly making up your saltwater
5. Heavy metal contamination.
1. Improper filtration and/or incomplete cycling of your filters.
If you haven’t properly cycled your tank, then you most likely have toxic levels of ammonia and/or nitrite in your water. This can happen when you initially set up an aquarium and add jellyfish (or any life forms, for that matter…this is not a jellyfish specific issue, but a standard fish or coral tank issue. You must take the time to properly cycle your aquarium no matter what animals you choose to keep in it). Once jellyfish are added to the tank, they begin to produce ammonia. Once ammonia starts to build up, you need to have a way to eliminate it. This is why proper filtration is important. A properly filtered aquarium will have a biological filter in place, which will remove the toxic ammonia and nitrite by way of the beneficial bacteria that populate the filter media (i.e. bio balls). If you do not have beneficial bacteria actively removing the ammonia and nitrite, then the water becomes toxic and the jellyfish will soon begin (within 2 days) to disintegrate like the pictures demonstrate.
2. Ammonia spike.
Why are you having an ammonia spike even after you’ve already cycled your tank? An ammonia spike can occur if you stopped feeding your tank for any reason. Sometimes folks let the aquarium go down, or let it run without any animals in it for awhile like if they go on vacation or take some time away from keeping jellyfish, or they don’t have jellies in it for several days for whatever reason. This leads to an ammonia spike because your beneficial bacteria in you filter box didn’t receive any ammonia to eat—your system wasn’t creating any ammonia because you had no jellyfish in it & subsequently weren’t feeding any jellyfish. This means the beneficial bacteria went with out food (ammonia) and starved to death. So, if you then add jellyfish to the tank when you get back from vacation (or whatever), there is no beneficial bacteria available in the filter box to eliminate the toxic ammonia & you experience an ammonia spike and shredded jellyfish as the pictures show.
If you do go on vacation, or take more than 3 days away from having jellyfish in your tank, you can alway place a small, 1/4″ piece of raw fish or shrimp in the filter box to continue to decompose and create ammonia for the beneficial bacteria to feed on while you’re away. When you return, always take an ammonia reading and remove the piece of raw fish or shrimp before adding new jellyfish to the tank. Make sure your ammonia and nitrite levels are at zero before acclimating any new jellyfish into your tank.
An ammonia spike can also happen if you interrupted the cycling process by cleaning the tank, changing any mechanical or chemical filters, or conducted any water changes prior to the tank completely finishing its cycling process. Do not interrupt the cycling process. I know it’s tempting to want to get the sides & bottom of the tank clean. The algae growth can be unsightly, but remember, you are creating a living environment from a static one. Life can be messy! Let nature take it’s course and be patient– I know it’s hard, but it is necessary. You can clean the tank all you want after the cycling process is over! If you interrupt the cycle, it can take almost 3 times as long to get it back on track an in a non-toxic state. Be patient. It’s worth the wait!
3. Not Acclimating your Jellyfish Properly
You are receiving jellyfish that are coming from a pristine environment. When you receive a shipment of jellyfish, the water quality parameters are most likely different from yours. You must take the time to acclimate the jellyfish in the shipping bag to the temperature of your system. After 10-15 minutes of floating the bag so the temperatures equalize between the bag and your tank water, acclimate them to your water quality (pH, salinity), by conducting small water changes in the bag over 45 minutes to 1 hour. Don’t take all night doing this step. The jellies need to get out of the bag and into a moving environment. Acclimation shouldn’t take more than 1.5 hours from start to finish. If it is taking longer than that, then there is another problem at hand that needs to be addressed.
4. Improperly making up your saltwater
If you are making up your saltwater with tap water, your jellyfish will fall apart. Tap water has heavy metals in it that the jellyfish cannot tolerate. You must make up your saltwater with RO, RO/DI, or distilled water for it to be safe for jellyfish, much like a reef tank.
If you are not aerating your saltwater for at least 24 hours in a bucket with a small submersible pump, then you most likely are adding undissolved salts to your tank. The jellies don’t do well with undissolved salts. Please read our blog post that covers this topic in depth: “Problem with Your Jellyfish? Undissolved Salts Could be the Culprit”
5. Heavy metal contamination.
Do not use metal utensils or tools with your saltwater jellyfish aquarium. Only use plastic tools. Always wash your hands before dealing with your jellyfish or handling the jellyfish food. Zinc, brass, lead & petroleum products (sometimes found in soaps and lotions) will add heavy metals to your system. The jellyfish will fall apart if you introduce them into the water. Also, I should mention that aquarium heaters can get old– moreover, their seals can get old and crack. This can allow water to leak into them where the metal heating coil is located and other metal parts. If you have an old heater, check it for any visual signs of rust on the heating coil. If you see rust, throw it away and purchase a new one.
Send us your problem jellyfish pictures and we’ll diagnose the problem and tell you how to fix it. We’ll also write a new blog post about it so we can inform and help others that may be experiencing the same problem!
Send your pics to email@example.com
Have you had an unusually long cycling process? Are your new jellyfish shrinking fast even after the tank finally cycled?? Please read our blog post next week for answers.
Are your jellyfish shrinking, getting thin and flattening out???
Here are 5 reasons why that might be…..
1. Feeding Non-nutritious food
One of the most common problems when keeping jellyfish is keeping them properly fed. Without a consistent supply of nutritious food, they will become weak and thin. Malnutrition causes listlessness and infrequent belling or pulsing, leaving you with inactive jellyfish that just float around the tank like pieces of tissue paper. Not pretty. Not elegant. Not fun! Your solution is to feed them jellyfish food that is nutritious & to feed them the proper amount. There are a lot of feeds on the market for fish and corals and you may think that they will work for jellyfish. Not the case. Reef Nutrition has some amazing feeds for filter feeders and some of what they have to offer are good supplements for jellyfish, but not strictly meant for a main food source.
Jellyfish are not goldfish & you cannot simply sprinkle some food in every other day or so. They need to eat each day and they need to get a good amount into their systems with each feeding. See our blog post Knowing How Much to Feed Your Jellyfish for guidelines & pictures of what a well fed jellyfish looks like. Without enough good food to eat each day, they will become thin and lazy.
3. Your Flow is too High—or Too Low.
If your jellyfish aquarium has adjustable flow, you may need to fine tune it. If the flow is too high, the jellyfish may not be able to keep the food on their tentacles as they whiz around the tank and this means they are not ingesting the food. This leads to underfed jellyfish, which leads to lazy and shrinking jellyfish. The same goes for low flow. If the flow in your tank is so low that the jellyfish cannot properly bell and keep themselves suspended, then they will not feed properly. Again, this leads to malnutrition and shrinking jellyfish. Jellyfish need to bell efficiently in order to move fluids and food into and throughout their system.
4. Your Jellyfish Aquarium is Not Cycled
If your aquarium is not biologically cycled then your water quality is toxic (you have ammonia and/or nitrite levels above zero) and the jellies will be stressed because of it. Jellyfish are 96% water, so if your water quality is suffering, so are your jellyfish. They will not eat much, if at all, and this leads to shrinking jellyfish.
5. Your Salinity is Too High
When your salinity is too high, the jellyfish will cease to eat. Keep your salinity in check–everyday if necessary–so your jellyfish can feed properly without the stress of spiking salinity levels. If you haven’t yet read our blog post about hydrometers and the inaccurate readings they can give….read it now. The plastic hydrometers on the market tend to have variable readings. Have your hydrometer tested at your local fish store to be certain that yours is giving you accurate readings. Again, if your jellyfish are not getting enough food each day, they will shrink.
And a word about vacations, weekends & days off from feeding….
If your jellyfish are healthy and being fed normally and on a regular basis with nutritional jellyfish food, then you can safely get out of town for the weekend. They will be fine given they have full stomachs 5 days out of 7.
Another common problem concerning salt levels in your jellyfish aquarium, besides inaccurate hydrometers giving a false reading, is how the saltwater is made. Undissolved salts can also give you an inaccurate reading which is a problem since jellies are very sensitive to salinity changes & high salinity levels can also impede their movement, eating and overall cellular activity. It is important to know what your salinity is and how it changes over time.
The point I need to make here is about how you make up your saltwater with distilled or RO water.
Always prepare the saltwater at least 24 hours ahead of time. Adding undissolved salts to your jellyfish aquarium will damage the jellies tissue and can cause them to be very still and not bell or pulse much…their bell can curl under and they will fully retract their tentacles and not eat because of the tentacle retraction. They will look and be sad….sad jellies. Also a dusty film of white on the interior of your tank will form, which can make the tank look cloudy.
Properly aerating saltwater involves a small submersible pump called a powerhead, and a bucket. A simple “bubble wand” or “bubbler” will not degauss and dissolve the salts completely. I know the words “aeration” and “bubbler” tend to go hand in hand, but in this case it’s just not the right tool for the job. You need more mixing power in the water which a powerhead can give you. Once you add the desired amount of salt, vigorously mix for a minute or two with your hand or 2 foot length of PVC pipe as a stir stick. After that, you can let the powerhead pump ( in this scenario a Lifegard 800 is perfect!) do the rest. See diagram above to see how to set this up in a 5 gallon bucket. It could be any size bucket as long as you position the powerhead pump at the water level allowing it to pull in air as it mixes. You want the water and air to be churning vigorously.
If you have some residual stuff still swirling around the bottom of the bucket after 24 hours don’t worry about it. Just leave it there and don’t try and mix it into the water you will be using for a water change. You can rinse that out and get rid of it before making another batch of saltwater. It’s just undissolved minerals and is totally normal.
Important Side Note!!
Never use tap water to make up your saltwater–not even if you use some sort of water conditioner that removes chlorine. There are heavy metals, pesticides and ever more increasing levels of pharmaceuticals in city tap water supplies. No sort of chemical conditioner will eliminate these things from the water. You must use distilled or RO (reverse osmosis) water. Do not use “spring water” or “mineral water” or “drinking water” — it must say “Distilled” or if you are purchasing from a water store, it must be RO or RO/DI.
I recently had the opportunity to meet and speak at length with some new local customers who came in to learn how to keep jellyfish as pets. Payam, Lauren and their little dog Ted came down to the lab to see just what is involved with keeping jellyfish and maintaining a jellyfish aquarium. It was super to spend time with them and show them the ropes! It was then that I realized that most of the questions they had are the same questions a lot of folks send my way via email. So, I will start to shoot quick blog posts every week that cover these questions– most of which are not jellyfish specific questions, but standard aquatics questions that can be answered fairly easily and quickly. And, I will certainly get to the more specific jellyfish inquiries which will help you, as a jellyfish owner, begin to recognize and identify certain issues that can arise while caring for these beautiful animals and how to correct the problem right away.
Don’t bog your jellies down with high salinity levels in your jellyfish aquarium!
The first and biggest problem I see is maintaining water quality–specifically salinity. The problem seems to be in the hydrometers that are generally purchased to measure the salinity. The plastic hydrometers that are on the market, and even the more costly refractometers need calibration. Using either one of these instruments right out of the box will yield a variety of readings which is not good when you are trying to establish the salinity level of your aquarium. Payam left with 20 gallons of my natural ocean water, salinity 33ppt, and when he got home and tested the water with his newly purchased Deep Six Hydrometer, it was reading over 40ppt!! I knew this was incorrect. Payam returned it to the store and bought another one. Same problem. Then he purchased yet another one! Finally–Getting closer! Third time’s a charm!
Now, I know from personal experience because I have 2 of them myself and each one reads differently. The trick is to calibrate it with a known water source and then simply account for the difference each time you use it. It’s no big problem to do. The third one Payam purchased was a bit closer to an actual read and we agreed that he will bring it in for me to calibrate properly soon. The point is, if you are continually having problems with your jellyfish eating, belling or pulsing, or just not thriving, you should first look to your salinity level.
Moon jellies perform better with a salinity level between 32-33ppt. Don’t worry if you go a bit below that because lower is better than higher. Just don’t alter the salinity level too much at one time but do it gradually over a few days. And, never add distilled or RO water to your filter box as it will kill your beneficial bacteria, which are a marine (saltwater) species of bacteria and are also affected by salinity & pH. Also, keep in mind: depending on your geographic location and evaporation rate, you may need to check your salinity twice a week.
Here in Los Angeles we have very dry air and experience quite a lot of evaporation. But, again, it’s hard to know that if you have an instrument that is inaccurately reading your water. Try taking your hydrometer to your local hi-end reef / fish store and see if they will calibrate it for you. What you want to know is how many points off your hydrometer is – either too high or too low– and then just account for that each time you take a salinity reading. For example, when using my plastic Deep Six hydrometer in a pinch, I know it reads 3 points too low, so I just add 3 points to whatever it is reading. When I do have a chance to test it against my pricey refractometer, it is consistent with my adjusted plastic hydrometer read.
As you populate your eon jellyfish tank with jellies, you may sometimes notice a jelly acting differently; belling oddly or sometimes infrequently. Is that jelly sick? Should you take some action to make it better? Not necessarily. First of all, jellies don’t get sick, per say; however, they can plateau in their development.
Take a look at your other jellies. Are they behaving in the same fashion as the jelly in question? Take some water quality readings and see if they are in range or not. Correct any levels that are off and wait a day or two. The jellies are 96% water. So, if your water quality checks out A-OK, then your jelly in question could be taking a personal day—having personal issues. This does not mean you need to take action on your whole system. If your water parameters are in range, be patient and keeping observing.
We have noticed over the years that sometimes a jelly will sort of plateau and change behaviors for up to two weeks and then get back to normal. Some jellies grow quick and fast and are always in action, but then their growth rate slows down and they can plateau. Some don’t grow at first and then take off later in life. Be patient with your jellies as they settle into your system and with your maintenance practices. It’s good to be on the ball observing their health and wellbeing; however, think about your tank as a system–an aquatic system. Don’t be quick to judge one or two “off” days with a jelly here or there. And do not go the route of forcing more food into the equation thinking that is the answer. Let nature do its thing and just maintain good water quality and maintenance practices. These guys are resilient and given the chance, they can rebound nicely in a well-kept environment.
Another thing to consider is that you are observing animals in a closed system and natural selection is taking place in front of your eyes! The stronger jellyfish will bell more, eat more food and grow faster and bigger. While, at the same time, the weaker jellies will grow more slowly and the very weak jellies will stay the same size as when you first introduced them, or will shrink. This is completely normal. We liken it to the “varsity”, “junior varsity”, and “bench warmers” of the jellyfish world. It is to be expected. In very rare cases will all the jellyfish remain the same size in a closed system.
…in some cases they take a personal day for the rest of their lives and there isn’t anything to be done. They can still eat and live and be just fine. Embrace the existentialists!!!