583 millions years ago a vast armada of primitive beings dominated planet Earth. They were the free-roaming Cnidarians.
The Cnidarians were round, globular, gelatinous creatures and used a single cavity to respire and eat. They used venemous stinging cells to stun and then kill their dinner.
They were, to put it bluntly, blobs.
Possibly related to the creature Steve McQueen did battle with many millennia later outside a Fifties diner--the same creature Burt Bacharach forever immortalized in song:
Beware the blob, it creeps
And leaps and glides and slides
Right through the door
And all around the wall
A splotch, a blotch
Be careful of the blob.
Scientists warn that the Cnidarians could once again dominate Earth. They are uber-efficient, practically indestructible, able to survive and proliferate in worsening climactic conditions. They have a broad diet, fast growth rates, the ability to shrink when starved, the capacity to fragment and regenerate, and the ability to tolerate hypoxia. These, according to one scientific paper, "are characteristic of opportunistic 'weed species' and would appear to give [them] an edge over [other species] in environments stressed by climate change, eutriphication and [over exploitation.]"
Already armadas are massing in various parts of the globe, and particularly in Alaska.
Unknowing landwellers, smug in their ownership of a vertebrae and opposable thumb, and sublimely unaware, for the most part, of the Cnidarians plans for world domination, think it's cute to refer to this Terminator-type creature as a..."jellyfish."
I've had many close encounters with this so-called "jellyfish."
When I worked on a guide boat operating out of Sitka, Alaska, I, and the guests, experienced what scientists call a blob "bloom."
We were anchored in a remote bay, cut off from the rest of the world with no sign of civilization anywhere. Our only form of outside communication was a satellite phone with an intermittant signal. We were the only upright-walking, two-legged vertebrae around for countless miles of water, forest, mountains and sky.
One day a guest and I stepped out on the deck and saw, as far as the eye could see, pulsing, translucent Cnidarians. They lapped hungrily at the hull and undulated on the waves menacingly. We were completely cut off and surrounded.
The homo sapien beside me (sub species: Texan) said, and I quote: "It looks like Someone sneezed."
I think it's the colloquial, fond contempt inherent to the nickname "jellyfish" that undermines the Cnadarians' intimidation techniques. Plus, however much scientists work as the propaganda department of the Cnidarians' world-domination efforts, many humans just don't listen to scientists.
Even though scientists have been saying for years that climate conditions favor their taking over the world. "Because they don't need much food to grow their watery bodies, and then don't spend that much energy to find food, they end up as biologically efficient as their fish competitors--a fact that possibly gives them a competitive advantage in a disrupted ocean." Several marine systems have already transformed from places dominated by plankton-eating fish-like sardines and anchovies to zones thick with jellies following climate change and over fishing, a NOAA biology report notes.
Or, as the Cnidarians like to say: "Be afraid. Be very afraid."
The Portuguese Man o' War is the Borg division of the Cnidarians' efforts at world domination. It's not an "it" but a "they": a colony of organisms working together, having but one thought and one goal. It uses it's deceptive beauty as camouflage, looking like "a glass blown ship at full sail" as one National Geographic writer wrote.
It has tentacles that typically extend about eight feet, but can grow up to 165 feet long. Its venomous stingers can inflict intense pain from bacterial toxins that destroy cells directly.
My sister has engaged with this advanced weapon of the Cnidarians, to her cost. She and a friend were unfortunate enough to get the tentacles from one of these creatures wrapped around their legs. the pain was intense, an indication, along with dizziness, disorientation and having trouble breathing, of severe envenomation. (This is not an allergic reaction and actually, attempts to treat it as if it was--with an EpiPen, for example--can be dangerous and life threatening. Seek medical aid immediately if you experience any of these symptoms after a jellyfish sting.)
Perhaps you've heard that urinating on a jellfish sting will take the pain away. It doesn't. Just ask my sister. Or don't. It's not a memory that she cares to revisit. Instead, the best known cure for a jellyfish sting is to soak it in warm water with Epsom salts. Fresh water will actually make it worse.
And beward of the Portuguese Man o' War even when you come across one dead. Their venom is still active after death.
Ernst Haeckel, a 19th century German biologist discovered and depicted hundreds of new species of Cnidaria. One wonders if some underlying awareness of the world conquering goals of the creatures he studied, sketched and painted, didn't perhaps inform and influence his evolutionary justifications for nationalism, social darwinism and racism; which justifications the Nazis co-opted to lend scientific credibility to their own attempts at world domination.
One of my earliest recollections of jellyfish encounters was when I was about 6, living in a small fishing village. A friend of my oldest brother's (human, subspecies: male child) came into the house yelping from the pain of having touched a jellyfish's stinger.
"Whatever you do," my mom said immediately, "don't put your finger in or near your eye."
You know what he did.
His screams are probably still echoing in another dimension.
When we were kids we were told never to touch the red jellyfish, but that the translucent ones didn't sting in the winter and spring. We often handled them then, fascinated by their slick, gelatinous firmness, and were never stung.
But I found that in the summer even these Caspar the friendly Cnidarians didn't hesitate to release their venom. I discovered this when I went swimming on my favorite beach--and found the bay plugged with a giant bloom of translucent jellies, which had been invisible from shore. There was no escape, I made contact with hundreds of them every time I moved.
By the time I got out of the water my skin was burning and stinging from head to toe.
Don't tell ME these deceptively harmless, even comical looking blobs aren't the enemy! I had the thought again the time I went commercial longlining for haibut, hauling the groundline in by hand, and forgot to wear gloves. There were jellyfish stingers wrapped around every inch of line. My hands were raw by the time I'd hauled in the first set.
In a one on one match up with these creatures, which can grow to twice the size of a man, there's no competition. And we have nowhere near their survival skills in a deteriorating environment. As global conditions continue to decline it could very well end with the planet becoming Bloblandia.
And yet no one but the scientists, who apparently are seen as the boy who cried blob, take seriously the threat of their taking over the planet, as the over fishing continues hand in glove with climate change.
One day, looking back, I believe it will be said, "With infinite complacency men went to and fro over the globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter....[while another species] slowly and surely drew their plans against us." --War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)