Media Review: How to Keep Jellyfish in Aquariums: An Introductory Guide for Maintaining Healthy Jellies by Chad L. Widmer

by | Jul 15, 2010 | 0 comments

Jellyfish are beautiful creatures and they are mesmerizing to watch. My two boys always like stopping by this display whenever we visit public aquariums. Considering that this is one of the first books on jellyfish husbandry that I’ve encountered, I had to purchase and review it for Advanced Aquarist’s readership as I’m sure there are others out there that would like to know more about keeping and rearing these animals.

How to Keep Jellyfish in Aquariums: An Introductory Guide to Keeping Jellies by Chad L. Widmer is a 212 page 5″ x 8″ book that has a color cover and black and white print inside. Chad is a senior aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA and has been there for approximately 8 years as of the publication of the book back in 2008. In his own words: “The purpose of this guide is to present in plain language some proven methods for keeping healthy jellyfish in aquariums.” Let’s take a deeper look:

Publication Information
Publication InformationPublisher
ISBN-10: 160494126X

ISBN-13: 978-1604941265

Copyright 2008, Wheatmark

610 East Delano Street, Suite 104

Tucson, AZ 85705

The book is broken down into five main parts:

  • Part 1: Getting Started
  • Part 2: Jelly Keeping
  • Part 3: Collections Management
  • Part 4: Culture Work
  • Part 5: Appendices

Each section seems to be fairly thorough in its discussion of the subject matter with an exception or two along the way which I will detail as this review progresses.

Part 1: Getting Started

Part 1 comprises four chapters spanning 33 pages: Water and Life-Support Systems, The Basics of Tank Design and Function, Jellyfish Foods, and Essential Jellyfish Biology. The discussion about proper life support systems for maintaining healthy jellyfish as well the importance of specific tank design requirements is thorough and targeted specifically at keeping soft-bodied organisms like jellies. Depending on the jelly being cared for, the systems can be fairly simple or pretty complex and setups for each are discussed. Food selection is also discussed along with some basics on Artema nauplii usage. The Essential Jellyfish Biology section, however, is pretty sparse in my opinion. Two paragraphs and one 3″ x 2″ drawing plus a caption are all that’s given to cover the general anatomy of a full-grown jelly. You will need to find other sources in order to get a clear understanding of the anatomy of these animals, which is unfortunate given that this is an introductory guide. I
would like to see this section expanded in future editions of the book. Until then you will probably have to either dig through the references given in the book (and there’s plenty!) or google it.

Part 2: Jelly Keeping

The second section is comprised of only two chapters but is by far the largest section: 68 pages. It includes chapters on Jellyfish Acquisition followed by Care Instructions by Species. The species covered are quite numerous (+14):

  • Moon Jellies (Aurelia sp.)
  • Upside-down Jellies (Cassiopeia sp.)
  • Spotted Lagoon Jelly (Mastigias papua)
  • Lion’s Mane Jelly (Cyanea sp.)
  • Sea Gooseberry (Pleurobrachia sp.)
  • Bell Jelly (Eutonina indicans)
  • Egg-Yolk Jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica)
  • Northeast Pacific Sea Nettle (Chrysaora fuscesens)
  • Crystal Jelly (Aequorea victoria)
  • Black Sea Nettle (Chrysaora achlyos)
  • Black Star Northern Sea Nettle (Chrysaora malanaster)
  • Purple striped Jellyfish (Chrysaora colorata)
  • Cross Jelly (Mitrocoma cellularia)
  • Lobed Comb Jellies

Included in each section is a small black and white photo of the animal along with their general description, distribution and range, water parameters, rearing instructions, and food requirements. One nice added portion to each jelly covered is a Further Reading section at the end of each section where one can go to read more about this specific organism. It’s a nice plus for people with access to the scientific journals.

Part 3: Collections Management

This section is comprised of three chapters (7, 8, and 9 respectively) covering approximately 12 pages: General Rules of Thumb, Troubleshooting, and General Chores. There are eight General Rules of Thumb with two examples being “Multiple feedings per day are better than one massive feeding” and “Keep components that don’t need lighted in the dark.” Some are pretty basic but they are good points to ponder when keeping these soft-bodied creatures. Chapter 8 (“Troubleshooting”) contains a very nice table on symptoms, possible causes, and possible solutions, which would come in handy when trying to figure out why you are seeing a specific problem with the jellies in your care. General Chores in Chapter 9 are well covered: feeding, system checks, starting new cultures, and system decontamination from fouling organisms like hydroids and jellyfish polyps are highlighted.

Part 4: Culture Work

Chapter 10 is the only chapter in this section (15 pages): Starting and Maintaining Cultures. The lifecycles of jellyfish are covered along with obtaining starter cultures and maintaining polyps. Common fouling organisms are covered and a handy table is provided to help you deduce what’s going on and how to fix it.

Part 5: Appendices

The Appendices are fairly broad with various topics covered such as building pseudokreisels, trickle filters, autofeeders, etc. Short guides with photos on their setup are provided. Extra material includes places to go to see jellies along with a glossary, full bibliography, and book index. There’s good information found here for someone that wants to learn more about jellies and is willing to dig through seven pages of reference material for additional reading material.

Minor Criticisms

I have only three criticisms of the book:

  1. the photos inside are small and in grayscale
  2. the order of the subject matter covered could have been ordered a bit differently (in my opinion of course)
  3. jellyfish anatomy was minimal

Let me expand a bit on the above two points to clarify things a bit:

Photo size and color

Since the book measures 5″ x 8″, it’s tall but not very wide. I measured a couple of the photos inside the book and they’re typically somewhere around 3″ in width (some even smaller). A number of photos in the book are there to illustrate some specific concept such as pseudokreisel tank construction and design. With as small of photos as these are, it makes it difficult to see some of the details and being grayscale doesn’t help. A wider book design would have helped this out along with select sections that were color. For someone that actually wants to construct a pseudokreisel, they will have to search the internet for images to get a better idea of some of the details. This could have been minimized by rotating the photos 90° and printing them that way but that would have made it confusing for the reader and would probably have made page layout more of a pain for the publisher.

Content Ordering

When I started reading the book, I was confused why the author jumped right into water quality followed by tank design and then food requirements and then finally to jellyfish anatomy. Typically in most of the husbandry books that I’ve read, authors will start out with the organism the book is about along with some basic anatomy before jumping into tanks and foods. It’s minor, but I thought I’d mention it.

Jellyfish Anatomy

I pretty much covered this one in Part 1: Getting Started. I was really hoping that there would be some good jellyfish anatomy in the guide explaining the inner workings of the organisms, but it was pretty minimal at best.

Is this book worth buying?

If you are interested in jellyfish and are thinking about trying your hand at keeping some in a display tank, for $20 How to Keep Jellyfish in Aquariums is a good introduction to jellies. Chad has done a good job covering the subject matter and I would definitely recommend it. Just be prepared that you may have to do a bit of reference reading / internet searches in order to find out details like anatomy and larger photos of pseudokreisels to see how they’re put together.