Identify a jellyfish

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How to Identify a Jellyfish

Step 1. Learn what makes jellyfish different species.

Like any other species, jellyfish can be distinguished by the way their phenotype (i.e. Anatomy, Behavior, morphology, physiology), by the places that they live (their Biogeography), and by their DNA. Although combining information on phenotype, biogeography, and DNA provides the most robust identifications, all three options are not available to most people most of the time; for example, specialist facilities are required for DNA sequencing. Fortunately, jellyfishes usually can be identified at least to genus, and often species, by their appearance in the field, i.e. by measuring a set of informative anatomical or morphological characters.

Step 2. Use the scyphozoan jellyfish identification key.

A polychotomous key to identify scyphozoan jellyfishes is in development.

Step 3. Send your jellyfish to a specialist for confirmation.

If you've found a jellyfish and would like to know what it is and about it's DNA (for free!), then send pictures and a sample to the address below! We will identify the animals to the best of our ability, as well as sequence molecular markers including "genetic barcodes" from the mitochondrial (16S rDNA, cytochrome c oxidase subunit I) and nuclear (18S, 28S, and other markers in the future) genomes, then send the information to you. 

To send in your samples follow the steps below:

  1. Photograph the jellyfish
  1. Preserve the DNA
  • See descriptions under "Preservation of DNA" on the methods page for more detailed information.
  1. Preserve the remainder of the specimen for morphological analysis (optional, but highly preferred)
  • See descriptions under "Preservation of Medusae" on the methods page for more detailed information.
  1. Provide information about the collection

When sending samples, please include the following information for each specimen:

Geographic location


Date (of collection) 

Collector (e.g. your name)


Whole jellyfish preserved? (yes/no; where)


While we will endeavor to provide sequence data to you in a timely manner, turnaround will depend upon resources at the time. We expect that samples will be processed in less than one month in only exceptional circumstances. A more realistic expectation is 2-6 months, but sometimes longer as laboratory facilities may change from time to time. As resources are established and subsequently increased we hope to provide a more efficient service. Depending on your needs, arrangements can be made on a case by case basis. Please contact us if you have any questions.

We will attempt to sequence all species submitted, but success cannot be guaranteed. Our ability to generate sequence data will depend on the quality of the sample and whether existing techniques work for that species. If techniques don't work initially, we will attempt to modify them appropriately, but this will take time and sometimes may not be successful if resources (e.g. samples, time) are limited. Also, due to financial restrictions, we will only be able to sequence one or two jellyfish per species per location or region. If you would like to know whether we will sequence your samples before you send them, please contact Michael Dawson at It may be possible to arrange a subset of analysis.

Submission of samples implicitly gives us the right to use the sequences, including, but not limited to, publication on this site and in the scientific literature. Our intention is to advance knowledge of the scyphozoans as broadly as possible. If this might conflict with your immediate interests, please do not hesitate to discuss the matter with us. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with anyone interested in these animals and may forgo this condition in the interests of progress. All contributors to all studies will be acknowledged.


Please send all samples through airmail at room temperature to:

University of California, Merced
ATTN: Dr. Michael Dawson
Facilities Services Building A
5200 North Lake Road
Merced, CA 95343 USA

See Shipping information and details for more information.