Insights from Our Office

How to take care of pet jellyfish

Meet the TED jellyfish: Jellius Caesar, Jelvis Presley and Sting. Photo: Dian Lofton

Meet the TED jellyfish: Jellius Caesar, Jelvis Presley and Sting. Photo: Dian Lofton

Last year, we in the TED office successfully raised an ant farm. So this year, we thought we were ready for a more ambitious project—taking care of three pet jellyfish. They may not look like it, but jellyfish can be real divas. Still, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and the jellies (and the snails that live with them) are now a part of the TED family.

Allow us to take you on a journey into the wonderful world of jellyfish care …

1. Get a round tank with an air pump. Jellyfish have to have circular tanks because they can get stuck in the corners of rectangular tanks. (They don’t have brains, and thus they aren’t very smart.) We highly recommend the tanks from JellyfishArt.com or PetJellyfish.co.uk. They look cool, and come with most of what you need to get started.

2. Set up the tank to mimic the ocean’s salinity. Definitely follow the preparation instructions recommended by your tank retailer. But here is what we did to get our tank ready: We washed the substrate (that’s a fancy word for the little round balls of gravel you put in the tank), collected six gallons of distilled water, added marine salt to the water (you want the salinity to be like seawater, between 30 and 34 ppt), hooked up the tank and let it bubble for 24 hours.

Jellyfish supplies

Some of the supplies you’ll need to get your jellyfish tank ready for business. Photo: Asia Lindsay

3. Add the jellies! Because we are TED, we got our jellies from the internet. We opted for a kit from Jellyfish Art, the company that provided the tank—and who sent the jellies overnight by FedEx once everything was set up for them. Jellyfish are delicate creatures and are very sensitive to water changes, so you have to acclimate them gently to their new tank. The jellyfish arrive in a plastic bag, so just put the sealed bag into the tank to let the jellies get used to the temperature. Then add a cup of the tank’s water into the plastic bag. Continue to do this every 10 minutes or so for a couple of hours. The jellyfish will probably stop moving at this stage—and it will be absolutely terrifying. But fear not. They probably aren’t dead; they’re just adjusting. Once you release the jellyfish into the tank, they will continue to float around listlessly as their little world has been turned upside down. They should perk up in a couple of hours, when they get used to the new environment.

4. Feed your jellyfish. Jellyfish eat special food made from planktonic eggs, which are high in HUFAs (highly unsaturated fatty acids). You can buy this food separately, or get it as part of a kit like we did. Either way, you’ll have to feed your little darlings daily, but it is so much fun you could hardly count it as a chore. As I mentioned earlier, jellyfish aren’t terribly bright. So the best way to feed them is to inject the food directly into their stomachs with a turkey baster. My role at TED is nothing if not varied.

This is how you feed pet jellyfish. Domonstrated by me, Asia Lindsay. And yes—that is my jellyfish dress. Photo: Dian Lofton

This is how you feed pet jellyfish. Demonstrated by me—in my jellyfish dress. Photo: Dian Lofton

5. Watch the little guys very carefully for seven days. The first week is the hardest for the jellies. So do a water change two days in—remove about a quarter of the water at a time and then replace it with fresh salt water mix—and then another one five days after that. Frequent water changes help keep the jellies healthy—most of the illness afflicting jellyfish can be traced back to poor water quality. Now you’re in the home stretch of jellyfish parenthood! After this, you’ll only have to do a water change once a week. We do it on Thursdays, for some reason.

6. Name your jellyfish. Now that you’ve got the tank nicely set up and the feeding schedule down, it’s time to name your pets! (Sure, you could do it earlier—but the other steps seemed just a little more important, so I favored them earlier in this list.) At TED, we are a democracy so we put it to the staff and let people suggest names on a huge piece of paper on our staff refrigerator. We had some pun-tastic suggestions: Jelly Furtado, Dame Jellen Mirren, Jel-Z and Jellyoncé, Jelonius Monk, Anjellina Jellie, PB n Jelly, Duke Jellington. You get the picture. In the end, Jellius Caesar, Jelvis Presley and Sting emerged victorious.

We asked the office to name our jellyfish. Their suggestions ranged from. Photo: Thaniya Keereepart

We asked the office to name our jellyfish. Their suggestions ranged from. Photo: Thaniya Keereepart

7. Watch out for overfeeding and a cloudy tank. Once your jellyfish have made it through their first week, these are the two biggest dangers. We’ve tried a few methods to get the water clean, but in the end we added a bunch of crabs and snails who essentially work as the jellyfish tank’s garbage disposal, eating up the food that would otherwise sink to the bottom and form dreaded jellyfish tank gunk. Said gunk happens when you overfeed the jellies, so if you see it, remember less is more!

We’ve had the jellies for a couple of months now, and watching them pulse about in their little disco tank is now a frequent procrastination method in the TED office. We’ve had a few dramas (involving more than one lunchtime dash to the pet shop to buy water cleaning supplies, and the sad death of two additional jellies we purchased to keep our originals company—did you know that jellyfish simply disappear into thin air when they die?) but the project overall has been deeply fulfilling. Having jellyfish is a rollercoaster of emotions—but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you have any unusual pets, tell us below—we’d love to hear what animals TEDsters keep in their homes. In the meantime, if you want to follow the adventures of our jellyfish, check out the hashtag #TEDjellies.