Brainless jellyfish can learn skills. (Image via Unsplash/Sara Santandrea)

New study shows jellyfish can learn from experiences

The box jellyfish species Tripedalia cystophora has been found to have the ability to learn, which is interesting, as they were known as brainless creatures. The species is found in the Caribbean mangrove forests. They're different from other species and can be distinguished by the presence of 24 eyes.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen published the aforementioned results in the journal Current Biology. The report also ives an insight into how brains and learning abilities developed in ancestor species.


The box jellyfish experiment

Jellyfish could learn without the presence of brain. (Image via Unsplash/Jeffrey Hamilton)

Anders Garm, a biologist at the University of Copenhagen and the author of this paper described how this study was done.

They examined how these creatures reacted to the presence of mangrove roots. These roots appear as black towers while the water around them appears pale. Dr. Anders Garm said:

“The hypothesis was, they need to learn this. When they come back to these habitats, they have to learn, how is today’s water quality? How is the contrast changing today?”

The researchers produced images of alternating dark and light stripes to mimic the mangrove roots and pasted them inside buckets of water.

The swimming pattern of the jellyfish was dependent on the contrast of these stripes. High contrast stripes meant that the mangrove roots were near, and the box jellies stayed away from them.

When the contrast was lower, the jellyfish collided with the bucket rim many times and changed their behavior. That suggets that these creatures have some kind of short-term memory, which helped them change their behavior after collision.


Another author, Jan Bielecki, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Physiology at Kiel University in Germany, said:

“It’s amazing to see how fast they learn.”

Significance of learning abilities in jellyfish

Jellyfish behaviour depends on visual inputs. (Image via Unsplash/Tavis Beck)

The researchers also isolated visual neurons from the box jellies and subjected them to the aforementioned images. The cells showed significant activities in the presence of these images, proving this phenomenon.

These sea creatures don't have a brain and are distantly related to humans. The results obtained from this research have huge significance, as they can explain how memories are formed at the molecular level.

This research could pave the way for future research to prove how complex brain and memory evolved from early creatures on the planet. Dr. Garm also said:

“There are organ systems popping up and going away all the time. But nervous systems — once they are there, they very rarely go away again.”

The team is interested in learning the molecular mechanism of memory and emotions, and further research is going on to understand more. The aforementioned research gives an insight into how complex brains develop through evolutionary processes.


Indranil Biswas is a nutritionist and personal trainer with a diploma in dietetics and personal training with a specialization in sports nutrition and strength training.

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