Your things-to-do list this fall in Missouri just got longer, and weirder.
Peep the leaves. Pick a pumpkin. Go watch the jellyfish.
On Tuesday, the Missouri Department of Conservation posted a six-second video on its Facebook page of tiny, delicate, jellyfish bobbing in the waters of Lake Tom Sawyer at Mark Twain State Park. The video has been viewed more than 19,000 times in the last couple of days.
They looked more like floating chunks of spittle than monsters of the deep. But they were jellyfish all right- shaped like umbrellas with teeny tentacles.
Conservation department employee Karen Armstrong shot the video while kayaking in the lake, the post said.
“September is a great month to view these fascinating creatures in their habitat,” the department wrote.
Jaws dropped in the comments section with a collective thud.
“I never knew we had jellyfish in MO!”
“I didn’t know they existed.”
“I had no idea we had a freshwater version of them!”
“I learned something today!”
The folks at the Riverfront Times in St. Louis called the department’s jellyfish news “mind-bending.”
The scoop has been right there under our noses on the conservation department’s website, home of an entire field guide devoted to “Freshwater Jellyfish,” aka Craspedacusta sowerbyii.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, freshwater jellyfish have been reported in 44 states - in the Lake of the Ozarks and along the Missouri River in the Show-Me state, and in the Little Arkansas and lower and upper portions of the Kansas River in the Sunflower State.
The only three sightings in Kansas happened in 1999. Seventeen sightings were reported in Missouri between 1991 and 2016, the USGS says.
“We have seen them at Pomme Dr Terre and Council Bluff,” Stephanie Ernst wrote on the conservation department’s Facebook page.
“The first time I saw these was swimming in a Cove in Pomme de Terre,” wrote Rob Falke. “We (couldn’t) get back to the dock fast enough lol.”
“These delicate creatures are gentle swimmers and cannot tolerate much of a current, so they usually occur in calm or standing waters,” says the Missouri conservation department’s guide.
“They are most often found in ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and quiet or sluggish pools next to flowing water. They usually float just below the surface and when they appear are often seen in great numbers.”
They’re super-tiny - only about a half inch or an inch long when they’re fully grown, the guide says.
“They swim by pulsating contractions of the bell-like body,” says the guide of the umbrella-shaped swimmers. “A fringe of up to 400 tentacles lines the edge of the ‘umbrella.’”
Freshwater jellyfish can either be transparent or translucent, and are “sometimes faintly tinted tan, gray, white, green, or blue,” says the guide.
And yes, they can sting just like their bigger ocean brethren, according to the conservation department, but if you were stung you probably wouldn’t know it.
“They do have the same basic ‘stinging cells’ on the tentacles (used for feeding), but these probably cannot penetrate human skin,” the conservation department says. “A few people have reported itching or redness, but most people don’t feel them at all.”
Sting or not, they have inspired shock and awe in people who have seen them.
According to the Herald-Whig in northeast Missouri, the first time Kevin Bolling, superintendent of Mark Twain State Park, saw them in Tom Sawyer Lake was on Labor Day 2016.
“It was a surprise,” Bolling told the newspaper.
The jellyfish disappeared when the weather turned cold but came back in the fall, the newspaper reported last September.
“They’ll be everywhere,” Bolling said then. “You never see them from the bank. You’ve got to get out in the water to see them. But then you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of them.
“And the brighter the sunshine, the more you’ll see. They’ll come up to the surface, and you can reach your hand in and get them on your hand and look at them and then shake them back off into the water.”
Facebook user Marty Hough, who left a comment on the conservation department’s Facebook page, seemed relieved to see the video.
“I remember seeing one of these back in the mid eighties at Stockton Lake,” he said of the jellyfish.. “Nobody believed me! Lol “jellyfish don’t live in lakes!”
Maybe they’ll believe now, Marty.