Biological Invasions

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 463–469 | Cite as

Possible cryptic invasion of the Western Pacific toxic population of the hydromedusa Gonionemus vertens (Cnidaria: Hydrozoa) in the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean

  • Annette F. GovindarajanEmail author
  • Mary R. Carman
Original Paper


We describe a possible cryptic invasion of the toxic Western Pacific hydromedusa Gonionemus vertens (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa, Limnomedusae) in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. G. vertens was first noticed in Eel Pond in Woods Hole (Cape Cod), Massachusetts in 1894, but nearly disappeared in the 1930s, coincident with a large scale die-off of its preferred eelgrass habitat. During the 1894–1930 period, G. vertens was the object of numerous studies by local scientists, and was not reported as stinging. In contrast, Western Pacific G. vertens are known for their toxic sting symptoms, which include severe pain, respiratory distress, and paralysis. Here, we report new sightings in the northwest Atlantic from the late twentieth century onwards. Sightings are most frequent in Waquoit Bay on the southern-facing shore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, but medusae have also been found in locations ranging from Long Island (New York) to Wellfleet Harbor on the north side of Cape Cod. We also describe reports of stings with symptoms similar to those produced by the toxic Western Pacific strain. The first sting report that we are aware of occurred in 1990 in Waquoit Bay, and stings have since occurred in most of G. vertens’ known Northwest Atlantic locations. It appears likely that the recent sightings associated with toxic stings represent a new, cryptic invasion of the Western Pacific form. These new observations are cause for public health concern, particularly as warmer temperatures associated with climate change may promote G. vertens blooms and thus the likelihood of dangerous human-jellyfish interactions in a populated, tourism-dependent region.


Gonionemus Hydrozoa Jellyfish Medusae Toxicity Cryptic invasion Western North Atlantic 



We thank L. Deegan, E. Enos, B. Grossman, and I. Valiela (Marine Biological Laboratory), H. Golden (University of Connecticut), D. Grunden (Town of Oak Bluffs Shellfish Department; Friends of Farm Pond), N.T. Evans (Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries), H. Bayley (Cape Cod National Seashore), P. Colarusso (EPA), E. Nelson (EPA), K. Manzo (Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County), C. Weidman (Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve), R. York (Town of Mashpee Shellfish Department), P. Larsen (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences), L. Harris (University of New Hampshire), and A. Borror (Shoals Marine Laboratory) for sharing their medusa observations and sting accounts. D. Blackwood (USGS) and K. Rathjen (Normandeau Associates) assisted with fieldwork. We also thank J.T. Carlton, D. Calder and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Funding was received from the Community Preservation Committee of Oak Bluffs and the Adelaide M. and Charles B. Link Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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