Comb jellies, lightning bugs of the sea

It was just past dusk, a warm September evening welcoming us to the beach. And there it was.

An impossibly blue flash of light at the edge of the bay, just inside the curl of a gentle bay wave.

Then another. And then yet another. Brief flashes of blue from the bay, another surprise from our beach. We had never seen them before.

Comb jelly, taken at Monterey Aquarium by Bastique, CC

Comb jellies are not the same as jellyfish, despite their similar names (and similarly gelatinous bodies). They do not sting.

Sometimes in late summer they can overwhelm the bay–you feel them slip through your fingers with each stroke as you swim, at first a bit unnerving, but can be soothing once you get used to them.

Hundreds sometimes wash up on our beach, little glass globules sitting on the wet sand. I sometimes put a few back. We can all use a hand now and again.

If you watch one and the sun catches it just right, you will see a beautiful rippling iridescent wave along its edges, a living kaleidoscope. You can do this easily at high tide when you’re chest deep in water. It’s worth the effort.

And a few, it turns out, will erupt into light when disturbed. Our bay continues to surprise us.

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