CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - According to wildlife experts who track Lake Erie, freshwater jellyfish have been found on the north coast in Huron. Although they've been in lakes, rivers and streams in Canada they have used those same channels to be spotted in the American side of Lake Erie.
On the Canadian side of the lake, they are tracked by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).
"We have one record from Lake Erie proper (off Port Dover)," according to Jeff Brinsmead, Senior Invasive Species biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in Ontario. "They are likely present in Lake Erie and St. Clair, just not seen often. You would rarely find them in flowing waters ... only if they were washed in from upstream. Their habitat is lakes, ponds and quiet backwaters of rivers."
The MNRF uses a map to track confirmed sightings of freshwater jellyfish and it shows several sightings but most are north of the Great Lakes.
Closer to home the United States Geological Survey also uses an interactive map to track sightings and in our Northeast Ohio there have only been about 25 freshwater jellyfish found dating back as far as 1971 and most of which seen around the Bass and Kelley's Islands.
The USGS website describes the freshwater jellyfish as, "Craspedacusta sowerbyi is a hydrozoan (Phylum Cnidaria, Class Hydrozoa), which is most easily identified when it takes the form of a small, bell-shaped jellyfish, known as a hydromedusa. The hydromedusa measures about 5–25 mm in diameter, and is translucent with a whitish or greenish tinge."
According to a statement from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) "Individuals could spend their entire lives on Lake Erie and never see a freshwater jellyfish. The freshwater jellyfish are extremely small, about the size of a quarter or smaller, and they do not harm humans. Freshwater jellyfish are extremely rare and hard to find."
The question most want to know is can they sting. The answer is yes, but whether or not you would feel it is another issue. "It is highly unlikely that the microscopic stinging barbs can penetrate the human skin. Some individuals have reported that they encountered the jellyfish and felt an itching or irritation. Whether they were actually stung (involving a penetration of their skin) or whether the stinging barbs were released due to contact with the person, and the effect was due to brushing against the released stinging barbs is unknown," advises Brinsmead.
At this time the freshwater jellyfish do not appear to be an invasive species, meaning something that could grow to large numbers and damage the current eco-system in the lake, but that could change.
"Impacts have not been documented. The freshwater jellyfish feeds on microorganisms in the water column, which means they are competing with other organisms that feed on the same sources.
This may impact fish populations in a body of water, especially if there is a large, established population of jellies; however, "freshwater jellyfish are also eaten by native species in Ontario, so it is unlikely that they will have a noticeable impact on ecosystems," said Brinsmead.