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Freshwater jellyfish spotted in Lake Erie, but they've been here a while

Jul 18, 2017

A recent Facebook post has gone viral in the Great Lakes region. A few weeks ago, an Ontario woman posted a video and photo of a small, umbrella-shaped sea creature she says she caught in Lake Erie — a freshwater jellyfish. The video has been viewed more than a million times.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says this isn't an uncommon occurrence in the Great Lakes. In fact, freshwater jellyfish have been spotted all over the Midwest since the 1930s. 

The jellyfish in question are clear and smaller than a penny, according to Todd Wills. He's a research manager for the MDNR. He also says they're harmless to humans, and pose a threat only to very small aquatic life.

"We haven't seen any major issues arise because of them, and they're not considered dangerous to humans," he said.

But the environmental impact of the invasive species is unknown, and Wills says once they're introduced into an ecosystem it's nearly impossible to remove them. 

A freshwater jellyfish caught in a net in Serbia.
Credit Wikipedia Commons

Freshwater jellyfish are native to China's Yangtze River, but they've been found in many places across the United States. The Great Lakes has struggled with its fair share of invasive species, including Asian carp and zebra mussels, but it seems freshwater jellyfish are a low priority.

Wills says he doesn't know of any task force through the MDNR or other conservation organizations dedicated to eliminating freshwater jellyfish from the Great Lakes.

"To our knowledge, the impact they have is really unclear," he said. "Since they've been here so long, I think they're pretty innocuous.

Freshwater jellyfish sightings in Michigan should be reported to the MDNR.