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Phyllorhiza punctata is a large jellyfish with a rounded and somewhat flattened gelatinous bell that is clear or possibly tinted brown with many small white crystalline refractive spots close to the surface (Graham et al. 2003, Perry and Larsen 2004). As is characteristic of members of Order Rhizostomae, the bell margin lacks tentacles and the central mouth area is ringed by eight highly dichotomous (branching) oral arms that each bear 14 lappets (flaps of tissue) and become fused near their bases (Graham et al. 2003, Omori and Kitamura 2004). Within it's native range and in certain introduced localities, symbiotic zooxanthellae reside in the tissue of the animal, giving these jellyfish a brownish tint.
P. punctata is a coastal and estuarine jellyfish whose wide native distribution includes Australia and much of the Indo-Pacific including the Philippine archipelago (Heeger et al. 1992).Regionally, populations of P. punctata have persisted within a few isolated Caribbean lagoon systems (e.g., Puerto Rico) for at least four decades. More recently, established populations have been reported in Brazil (Haddad and Nogueira 2006). For the last several years, an established population has existed in the Gulf of Mexico which may become extraordinarily dense under favorable environmental conditions (Graham et al. 2003). Spotted jellyfish were first collected from the India River Lagoon and identified in June, 2001. St. Johns River Water Management District scientists encountered two specimens in the India River Lagoon proper near the Melbourne causeway in Brevard County. One of these was collected and transported to Harbor Branch Oceanographic, Fort Pierce, where it was positively identified as P. punctata. In light of the explosive population of this species in the Gulf of Mexico the previous year, the occurence of P. punctata prompted boat and/or aerial surveys of the central India River Lagoon between Vero Beach and State Road 520 in Cocoa to estimate the size of the population. Approximately 10-12 individuals were spotted by the aerial survey. Survey leader W.M. Graham of Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Alabama, estimated the actual population at that time to be approximately ten times that number, based on extensive survey experience gained while following the Gulf of Mexico population explosion (W.M. Graham, personal communication).
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