Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps

Phylum CTENOPHORA Eschscholtz, 1829

Comb Jellies

Compiler and date details

30 April 2007 - Lisa-ann Gerswin


The ctenophores are some of the world's strangest creatures: not quite jellyfish, but not quite not; not quite radial, but not quite bilateral; not quite coelomic, but not quite through-gutted. They use tractor-motion by means of eight rows of cilia, rather than pulsations, for locomotion. Many are hermaphroditic, and most are capable of strong biolumniscence. And they come in the most bizarre shapes and forms imaginable: from spherical forms resembling marbles or grapes, to alien lobed forms resembling the meat of unbroken walnuts; from belt-like forms that move sideways, to forms that look like praying hands clapping; from forms that look like a sealed sandwich bag, to non-swimming forms that creep along the substrate looking like flatworms. Ctenophores are strange indeed!

They have always been recognised as being different. The earliest species were named and classified in the mid-1700s, all grouped under the genus Beroe. Many forms were named throughout the 19th century, most of which have long since been lost in synonymy or unrecognisability. Today, about 200 valid species are recognised (Mills 1998). With the advent of deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles, this number is likely to grow, with many forms now being found that literally explode upon contact with nets or the walls of collecting containers.

Up until about 1888, the ctenophores were in the same phylum as the nematocyst-bearing Cnidaria, i.e., the Coelenterata. Like the cnidarians, ctenophores have spring-loaded capsules, but in this case, they lack venom, instead being more of an adhesive nature. These organelles, called colloblasts, are found only in the Ctenophora.

Early fossil ctenophores date back to at least the middle Cambrian, and there exist a few finds scattered around the world that appear to be credible as ctenophores; curiously, they used to have variable numbers of comb rows, although all living ctenophores now have eight.

The Ctenophora of Australia were reviewed by Gershwin, Zeidler & Davie (2010a).



Metazoa with biradial symmetry; with eight rows of fused ciliary plates at some stage in life history, providing locomotion; with a cnidarian-like nervous system controlled by an aboral statocyst; with mesenchymal muscles and anal openings; tentacles, when present, are often equipped with side-branches bearing many colloblasts, and are used to capture prey; most species are capable of bioluminescence; without a polyp stage.




This work could not have achieved its current form without specimens and information, as well as contributions, insights, collaborations, field assistance, hospitality, encouragement, and guidance from literally hundreds of people and institutions; it would take a chapter in and of itself to thank them all by name, but I am no less grateful by the confines of space. Those to whom I am indebted the most include (in alphabetical order): Andrew Abrahams, Ann and Phil Alderslade, Mark Alexander, Shane Anderson, Peter Arnold, the Australian Museum, Beth Ballment, Paul and Dave Barker, the family of Jack Barnes, Victor Hugo Beltran, Penny Berents, David Bloom, Bernie Bostock, George Branch, Broome Pearls, Jim Burnell, Joe Burnett, Karen Cahill, Steve Cairns, Dale Calder, Teresa Carette, Machael Carlson, Centro de Biologia Marinha (São Sebastião, Brasil), Howard Choat, Jen and Allen Collins, Paddy Colwell, Paul Cookson, Michael Corkeron, Chris Cridland, Belinda Curley, Bart Currie, Karen Dabinett, Peter Davie, Peter Dawes, Paul Dayton, Rory Denniss, Liam Drake, Marty Durkan, Ben Eales, Graham Edgar, Jenny and Paul Fenner, Maggie and Peter Fenner, Jane Fromont, Chuck Galt, Trevor Gibb, Mark Gibbons, Karen Gowlett-Holmes, Steven Gregg, Sheila Halsey, Cadet Hand, Dean Harrison, Bob Hartwick, Tom Hatley, Chad Hewitt, Bert Hoeksema, Liz Hoensen, John Hooper, Alex Hons, Russell Hore, Sue Horner, Bill Horsford, Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Susan Jacups, Fiona Johnston, Barbara Kinsey, Fabio Lang da Silva, Thierry Laperousaz, Ron Larson, Jono Leahy, Mark Longhurst, Ken Lowth, Tim Marques, Loisette Marsh, Brett McCallum, Steve McGuire, Bernard Métívíer, Alvaro Migotto, Eric Mitran, André Carrara Morandini, Kim Moss, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, the Muséum Natíonal D’Hístoíre Naturelle (Paris), the Museum of Tropical Queensland, the Natural History Museum (London), Naturalis (Leiden), Adam Nickolai, Jason O’Donnell, Palm Beach Villas, Paspaley Pearling Company, Gustav Paulay, Pearl Producers Association, Lesa and Aiden Peplow, Kay Petersen, Mary Petersen, Katherine Porche, the Queensland Museum, Quicksilver Connections, David Reid, David Ritz, Elaine Robson, Puk and Ashley Scivyer, Glenda and Jamie Seymour, Anna and Scoresby Shepherd, Chiel Slierings, Grant Small, the Smithsonian Institution, Griselda Avila Soria, the South African Museum, the South Australian Museum, the South Australian Research and Development Institute, the family of Ron Southcott, Jim Strother, the many Surf Life Savers and life guards throughout North Queensland and Broome, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Andy Tattersall, Ole Tendal, Liz Turner, Shunshiro Ueno, Underwater World (Sunshine Coast), the University of San Paulo, the University of Tasmania, Michelle van der Merwe, Heather Walling, Catherine Walsh, Albert Wertheim, the Western Australian Museum, John Williamson, Caroline Wiltshire, Ken Winkel, Torben Wolff, Lyn and Wolfgang Zeidler, and Zoological Museum of the University (Copenhagen).

In addition to those who have contributed scientifically, many support staff at JCU and other institutions have bent over backward to help me. They would all humbly tell you they were just doing their job, but the reality is that I could not have done mine modestly if they had not done theirs spectacularly. You guys, I know I am really high maintenance, but I thank you all for graciously helping me accomplish this work, and at least waiting until I left the room to roll your eyes. I would never forgive myself if I failed to mention (in alphabetical order): Gwen Amankwah-Toa, Maryanne Anthony, Kari Arbouin, Diane Bailey, Gordon Bailey, Elliott Bates, Rita Bisley, David Blair, Roz Burgess, the divers and crew of the Paspaley Clare II, Linda Cole, Steve Cook, Barbara Done, Michele Dunscombe, Jill Evans, Savita Francis, the security gatehouse staff at JCU, Rob Gegg, Louise Goggin, Rhonda Jones, Lance Jorgensen, Norma Kobzina, Steve Lehman, Joan Lubenow, Chloe Lucas, the divers and crew of the Paspaley Marilynne, Jenny MacGregor, Helene Marsh, Dianne McNamara, Julie Meyers, Kingsley Miller, John Morrison, the night escorts at Berkeley, Mark O’Callahan, Lana Ong, Ned Pankhurst, Vince Pulella, Ingrid Radkey, Peter Roberts, Peter Roulston, Mark Salotti, Robert Shaw, Nicki Stathooles, Danny Stefoni, Regina Vann, Wai Pang Chan, Beth Weil, Colleen Whitney, and Alan Wignall.

Many different institutions and organizations funded this work; I am grateful beyond words for your generosity (in alphabetical order): Australian Biological Resources Study (grant #20045 to me and W. Zeidler), Australian Rotary, Broome Shire Council, CRC Reef Research, CSIRO Centre for Research on Introduced Marine Pests, Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Fulbright Foundation, Great Barrier Reef Research Foundation, James Cook University Postgraduate Research Scholarship, James Cook University School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, Lions Foundation, Merit Research Grant (to M. Kingsford), Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Paspaley Pearling Company, Pearl Producers Association, Robert W. King Memorial Scholarship, Smithsonian Institution Collection Improvement Grant, South Australian Research and Development Institute, Surf Life Saving Australia, Surf Life Saving Queensland, Thyne-Reid Foundation (to P. Fenner), University of California Berkeley, University of California Museum of Paleontology, and the University of São Paulo.


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
16-Dec-2015 CTENOPHORA Eschscholtz, 1829 24-May-2012 MODIFIED Dr Lisa Gershwin
12-Feb-2010 (import)