Eastern Michigan University debuts course on jellyfish research

YPSILANTI, Mich. – A course on studying freshwater jellyfish was added this fall to Eastern Michigan University’s course catalog.

Students conduct field work in the course by researching the organisms in a nearby lake.

“Knowledge gained through research is such a fundamental aspect of biology,” professor of biology at Eastern Cara Shillington said in a statement. “This class gives students a better idea of what it means to be a scientist and allows them all to take ownership of that title.”

As part of the course, students review literature, formulate research questions and propose future projects for studying jellyfish.

Graduate biology student Rachel Koski said she has long wanted to study marine biology and enjoys the fieldwork involved in the course.

“Freshwater jellyfish are an invasive species that are now found on every continent except Antarctica, but their appearances each year are somewhat unpredictable, making it difficult to collect data,” Koski said in a statement. “In comparison to other species of jellyfish, there is a lack of literature on freshwater jellies, so being able to research them and gain more knowledge about their ecology and distribution is awesome.”

“I wanted to learn more about one of the most astonishing and unknown species in some Michigan lakes,” said senior and environmental science major Kyle Martin in a statement. “As a native of Ypsilanti, I always enjoy learning about the various organisms that live here.”

After spending time in the water filming and observing the jellyfish, the students are back in the classroom this semester.

Shillington said very few long-term field studies on freshwater jellyfish exist and she plans to offer the course in the fall during peak jellyfish activity in the years to come.

Known as hydromedusas, the jellyfish are small and bell-shaped. They were first observed in Michigan in the 1930s, according to the United States Geological Survey.

“I was able to swim alongside fish and freshwater jellyfish while they were in their natural habitat – an experience that wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for this course,” Martin said in a release.