Astonishing Animals – The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish
This beauty has 100 feet long tentacles with thousands of microscopic harpoons that inject a paralysing venom
Most of us tend to prefer a head-on portrait, yet this beast, shot in the chilly waters of the northern hemisphere, is best viewed from below. “This otherworldly image is actually the underside of a large cold-water jellyfish,” explains our new book, Animal: Exploring the Zoological World. “It is a photograph, the work of Alexander Semenov, a biologist and underwater photographer at Moscow State University’s White Sea Biological Station in Kandalaksha Bay, inside the Arctic Circle.
It's one of 300 images of animals from cave paintings to extraordinary medieval bestiaries - exquisite scientific illustrations to iconic paintings and contemporary artworks in Animal: Exploring the Zoological World - a visually stunning and incredibly wide-ranging survey that explores and celebrates humankind's ongoing fascination with animals.
“Semenov is a master of underwater photography, and his work captures a world that few people will ever see: the riot of animal life that is to be found in the polar and subpolar oceans. The conditions in which he works are harsh, to say the least. The cold water, currents and bulky equipment make the quality of his images even more remarkable. Not only that, but the subjects of his work are animals that most other photographers would not give a second glance, but which have their own beauty when seen up close.
“The subject of this image, suspended in the water column, is the jellyfish Cyanea capillata. The term ‘jellyfish’ is rather confusing. They are indeed gelatinous, but they are not fish. These animals are free-swimming cnidarians, the group of animals that also includes corals and anemones.
The lion’s mane is the largest jellyfish. The biggest specimen ever recorded had a body that measured 2.3 metres across, and tentacles that stretched an incredible 37 metres, making it one of the longest animals in the world. An impressive stretch, though if you see one of these in the ocean, remember to look, but not touch.
“Despite their soft, gelatinous bodies, jellyfish and their relatives are extremely effective predators. Their tentacles,” explains our book, “which trail from beneath the swimming bell, are armed with tens of thousands of microscopic harpoons that are shot out into prey to inject a paralysing venom.”