11 Different Jellyfish Colors Explained

Jellyfish in different colors

Jellyfish come in many colors. Some are dark, some are light, and others have a mix of both. Many even show different patterns. Plus, did you know some jellyfish glow while others have no color at all? 

Jellyfish colors aren’t just pretty to observe; they also hold many secrets. In this guide, we’ll explore the different colors seen in jellyfish.

Here, you’ll also learn about the science behind each color and which types of jellyfish have them. You’ll also find answers to common questions about jellyfish colors. Keep reading to learn more!

11 Different Jellyfish Colors 

Jellyfish colors mainly come from their genes, what they eat, and where they live. Some jellyfish colors result from their pigment, while others come from bioluminescence. 

Let’s discover the most common colors seen in different types of jellyfish and explore each one.

1. Colorless

Colorless jellyfish

Colorless jellyfish are amazing creatures that live in many oceans worldwide. The Moon Jellyfish and Crystal Jellyfish are two common examples.

These jellyfish are almost like see-through ghosts in the water. Moon Jellyfish, often seen along coasts, are so transparent that they look almost invisible, sometimes showing just a hint of pink or blue. 

Meanwhile, Crystal Jellyfish are just as translucent, with a bell that looks like glass and about 150 thin tentacles. 

While other jellyfish are bright to protect themselves or catch food, these colorless ones blend into the water to hide from danger. This is also how a swarm of colorless jellyfish can go almost unnoticed in the water.

Fun Fact: Did you know that studying Crystal Jellyfish led to a big discovery? Scientists found a special glowing protein in these jellyfish that has helped a lot in science, like illuminating different parts of the brain.

2. Blue

Blue jellyfish

Blue is another color seen in many jellyfish species. It usually ranges from a soft sky blue to a deep, bold blue. In some jellyfish, you’ll see more blue either on their bell or tentacles.

Two common examples of blue jellyfish are the Blue Blubber Jellyfish and the Blue Jellyfish

Blue Blubbers sport a blue bell that looks almost see-through. Up close, they have tiny patterns that look like small white dots or scattered markings.

Meanwhile, Blue Jellyfish, also called Bluefire Jelly, has a more even blue coloration. Under certain lighting conditions, they can appear very close to black.

I’ve had the chance to see some Bluefire Jellies in captivity in a lab. What stood out to me was their long, thin tentacles that gave them a ghost-like appearance. 

They also have purplish tones underneath their translucent bell. The ones I observed are no bigger than six inches across, but I’m pretty sure they can reach twice the size in the wild.

3. Red

Red jellyfish

Red jellyfish are some of the most eye-catching creatures in the ocean. Some jellyfish are naturally red, while others can glow red through bioluminescence. 

Three well-known types of red jellyfish are the Blood-belly Comb Jelly, Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, and Big Red Jelly

While not all of these three are vibrant red, they all show off reddish hues ranging from a pale tan to dark, brownish red.

According to some, the red coloration in jellyfish mainly comes from eating shellfish and other red-colored prey; however, there is not much scientific evidence proving this.

4. Pink

Pink jellyfish

Pink is another color seen in jellies. Usually, you’ll spot this in combination with other colors, such as red, brown, or purple. 

Sometimes, clear or translucent jellyfish may also have hints of pink. The pink color in jellyfish often appears in their bell, tentacles, or gonads.

Like red, pink is thought to come from their diet, which can include tiny creatures with pinkish pigments. However, we don’t have much proof of this yet.

Examples of pink jellyfish include Pink Meanies, known for their bright pink color and 70-foot-long tentacles, and Comb Jellies, which show off a pinkish, translucent hue.

Watch this video to learn more about Comb Jellyfish:

World's Deadliest Jellyfish: Comb Jellies | Deadliest Month Ever | National Geographic Wild UK

5. Purple

Purple jellyfish

In jellyfish colors, purple ranges from a really vibrant bright purple to a deeper and almost black color. They often mix purple with colors like pink or dark blue. 

Sometimes, even jellyfish that are mostly clear have a little bit of purple in them. This color is usually seen in the jellyfish’s bell, especially near the middle, but it can also be on their tentacles.

Two kinds of purple jellyfish are Purple-striped Jelly and Mauve Stingers. Purple-striped Jellies have big purple stripes on their white body, while Mauve Stingers are purplish throughout with a bit of pink.

6. Green

Green jellyfish

Green jellyfish are pretty rare in the ocean. You might see some with hints of green, but finding one that’s mostly green is uncommon.

Take the Crystal Jelly, for example. They usually look almost see-through, but sometimes, they glow green. They may also show a light greenish tint in their normal state.

There’s also the freshwater Peach Blossom Jellyfish. They’re mostly clear, but you can also spot hints of green in them.

What’s really neat is that lots of different jellyfish can glow green, even if they’re not green to start with. They do this through bioluminescence.

7. White

White jellyfish

White is another color seen in many jellyfish species. It is usually observed as distinct markings on their bell or on their tentacles.

In many species, white typically appears near the base of the tentacles and around the oral arms, creating a contrast against the jellyfish’s more predominant colors.

White-spotted Jellyfish are perfect examples of white jellyfish. This species displays prominent white spots across its bell, giving it a dotted appearance.

8. Orange

Orange jellyfish

In jellyfish, the orange color is typically seen in species that are mainly red or brownish. Their color ranges from dark tangerine to a softer peach-like orange.

Two kinds of jellyfish that are predominantly orange are Pacific Sea Nettles and Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. 

Pacific Sea Nettles have long tentacles and a bell that shows shades of red, orange, or brown. Meanwhile, Lion’s Mane Jellyfish are known for their long tentacles that resemble a lion’s mane. 

Fun Fact: Young Lion’s Mane Jellyfish start off a light orange or tan and get darker red as they grow older.

9. Brown

Brown jellyfish

Brown jellyfish, like Cannonball Jellyfish and Mediterranean Jellyfish, sport mostly brown body parts. Their brown can be a light tan or a rich, dark brown.

Appearance-wise, Cannonball Jellyfish have a large, round bell that’s almost like a translucent globe with brown shades. 

On the other hand, Mediterranean Jellyfish have a wider, umbrella-like bell with a more subtle brown color. 

Both types of jellyfish often have tentacles that are less colorful than their bells, sometimes appearing almost clear or with faint brown lines.

Brown in jellyfish is usually spotted on the bell as striations or dotted markings. It can also come in patterns or spots, along with shades of orange, yellow, and red. 

10. Yellow

Yellow jellyfish

Yellow jellyfish are not very common in the ocean. Their color ranges from a light, lemony yellow to a deeper, sun-like gold. 

In some jellyfish, the yellow color is more visible on the top part of their bell, while in others, it shows up on the tentacles.

Fried Egg Jellyfish are great examples of yellow jellyfish. They look just like their name suggests: a bright yellow center with a cloudy white surrounding, similar to a fried egg. 

Another yellow jellyfish is the massive Nomura’s Jellyfish. These giants can be brownish-yellow or reddish-brown. 

Fun Fact: When fully grown, the diameter of the yellow Nomura’s jellyfish is slightly greater than the average human. 

11. Black

Black jellyfish

Another uncommon color found in jellyfish is black. This shade is mostly observed in specific species and is found in different parts of a jellyfish’s body.

One well-known black jellyfish is the Black Sea Nettle, which has a large, dark bell that can reach up to three feet across and long, flowing tentacles.

Their tentacles can extend several feet and are usually reddish or maroon in color. Their overall dark look gives them a mystical appearance in the water.

On the other hand, Arctic Lion’s Manes are also examples of black jellyfish. While not entirely black, these jellyfish’s bells can sometimes appear almost black, especially as they get older. 

The Science of Jellyfish Colors

A closeup of beautiful marine jellyfish

As you have seen from our list, jellyfish display a stunning range of colors. But have you ever wondered about the science behind these colors? 

Let’s take a closer look and uncover a bit more.

How Do Jellyfish Produce Colors?

The vibrant colors of jellyfish stem primarily from two sources: bioluminescence and pigmentation. 

Bioluminescence is where jellyfish create light through chemical reactions within their bodies. This remarkable ability serves various functions, such as attracting prey and deterring predators.

Bioluminescence works by the interaction of a chemical called luciferin, found in living organisms, with oxygen. This interaction, aided by special enzymes, results in the production of light.

Different animals have developed this cool trick on their own, leading to various light colors. In the ocean, most of this light is blue or green because the wavelengths of these colors allow them to travel further in water. 

But, some rare sea creatures, such as some jellyfish species, can make red light. Meanwhile, on land, bioluminescent creatures like fireflies glow yellow. 

On the other hand, pigmentation provides jellyfish with more permanent colors. These colors may be influenced by various factors, including the jellyfish’s diet

While many sources suggest that a diet rich in certain types of shellfish could lead to reddish or purplish hues, this is not a universally observed phenomenon. 

Similarly, microorganisms like zooxanthellae, known to influence color in some marine creatures, also reside in jellyfish. These organisms likely affect the colors of jellyfish, too.

It is also possible that these organisms are the reason why some jellyfish appear to ‘change color.’

Fun Fact: Unlike octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish, which can quickly change their color and texture to hide, jellyfish don’t have the ability to actively change their colors for camouflage. 

Their colors are more about their natural makeup than a disguise. The only control they have over their color is when bioluminescence kicks in.

The Role of Jellyfish Colors in Survival

Jellyfish colors play a crucial role in their survival. For instance, bright bioluminescence can warn predators of venom or a painful sting, acting much like caution signs.

Meanwhile, some jellyfish use their translucent appearance to blend in, hiding from predators and surprising prey. It is also believed that jellyfish colors could attract mates or help them interact with their species.

According to Steve Haddock, a senior scientist studying bioluminescence at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), bioluminescence serves many purposes.

In a study published in 2010, Haddock, along with his colleagues, came up with an interesting schematic diagram detailing the different uses of bioluminescence for defense, offense, and mating. 

The first time I encountered this study, what intrigued me most was the so-called “burglar alarm.” This is a bioluminescent defense mechanism used by deep-sea organisms, such as the Red Crown Jelly

It works like this: if a shrimp begins nibbling on a jellyfish, the jellyfish triggers a bioluminescent display, which may attract a larger predator, such as a fish or squid.

This display can lure a larger predator toward the shrimp, creating a distraction that allows the jellyfish to escape while its attacker is distracted. This mechanism is not unique to jellyfish; it is also seen in ostracods.

Circling back to the role of jellyfish colors in survival, one thing is certain: there is much more to discover. Fortunately, there are lots of efforts and research steadily discovering the answers to these mysteries.

Color Changes and Environmental Factors

Colorful jellyfish near water surface

Did you know that jellyfish from the same species can have different colors? This is called color polymorphism, and it’s not just in jellyfish but in many creatures. 

For instance, cannonball jellyfish in certain locations can exhibit a range of colors from blue to purple.

What’s cool is that these color changes are not genetic but might be due to things like the temperature of the seawater, as revealed in a recent study.

This begs the question: what other factors affect color changes in jellyfish? Here are some environmental factors that likely affect jellyfish colors:

  • Diet: What jellyfish eat might change their colors; however, there is not a lot of proof for this yet. In theory, though, similar to other sea animals, eating certain things likely affects what color jellyfish turn out to be.
  • Symbiotic Relationships: Jellyfish can have tiny algae living in them called zooxanthellae. The colors and chemicals released by these algae can cause jellyfish to show different colors.
  • Age and Maturation: As jellyfish grow older, they can change colors. They start with one color when they’re young and can become another color when they’re adults. This may be due to the natural growth process and changes in their bodies as they mature.
  • Environmental Stress: The color of a jellyfish can change due to factors such as water temperature, salinity, and light exposure. However, studies on this topic are still limited.
  • Bioluminescence: Jellyfish can glow in the dark because of special reactions in their bodies. This glow is often blue, green, or pink, often occurring due to factors like predator evasion or prey hunting.

Watch this video to learn more about bioluminescence: 

How Deep Sea Creatures Emit Their Own Light | The New York Times

On the other hand, here’s a quick look at how jellyfish colors are affected by different habitats:

  • Translucent or Colorless Jellyfish: These jellyfish, like the Moon and Crystal Jellyfish, are almost invisible in the water. Their clear bodies help them hide from predators in sunny, shallow waters. Colorless jellyfish likely adapted such form to stay safe in areas where hiding places are scarce.
  • Dark-Colored Jellyfish (Black, Brown, Purple): In the deep sea, where light is limited, black and purple jellyfish can go unnoticed by predators. Meanwhile, brown jellyfish might blend well in coastal areas with muddy or sandy bottoms. These colors likely result from adaptation but could also be due to other factors. 
  • Bright-Colored Jellyfish (Red, Orange, Yellow): Bright colors in jellyfish can fend off other sea creatures. Red, orange, and yellow jellyfish might have adapted their bright colors as a defensive strategy or to blend in colorful coral reefs.

In summary, the colors of jellyfish are a blend of biological necessities and environmental factors. 

Whether it’s the need to hide from predators, lure in prey, or communicate in the deep sea, jellyfish colors are a key part of their survival toolkit. However, there is still much to learn about these sea creatures. 

The Most Colorful Jellyfish Species

Given the many different colors of jellyfish, certain species are notable for their stunning mix of hues. Let’s take a look at some of the most colorful jellyfish species.

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)

Lions Mane Jellyfish

The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish boasts a vibrant display of deep red and orange hues on its large, umbrella-like bell. 

Their long, flowing tentacles, which look a lot like a lion’s mane, range from orange to a deep crimson, giving them a fiery appearance. 

Meanwhile, their bell, which can grow up to 8 feet in diameter, often shows a gradient of color, being darker in the center and lighter towards the edges. 

Fun Fact: The lion’s mane is known for being the largest jellyfish, with a recorded specimen having tentacles around 120 feet long.

Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita)

Moon Jellyfish

Distinguished by its translucent, saucer-shaped bell, the Moon Jellyfish also sports four pink or lavender horseshoe-shaped gonads. These gonads are visible through the top of their bells. 

Their short, delicate fringe tentacles are almost transparent, adding to their ethereal look. In terms of habitat, Moon Jellyfish are often seen floating near the surface in coastal and temperate waters around the world.

Flower Hat Jellyfish (Olindias formosus)

Flower Hat Jellyfish

The Flower Hat Jellyfish shows off a stunning array of neon colors, with a translucent bell often covered in bright pink, green, and blue. 

Their tentacles are multicolored, giving off a nice contrast against the bell. They are also sometimes fluorescent. When their tentacles retract, they form a colorful, flower-like halo around the bell. 

Fun Fact: When not swimming, Flower Hat Jellyfish can often be seen sitting on the ocean floor, with their bells pulsating gently. 

Pacific Sea Nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens)

Pacific Sea Nettle

The Pacific sea nettle is known for its large, golden-brown bell, which can reach up to three feet in diameter. They also have long tentacles that range from translucent white to light shades of red. 

The bell’s color is nearly translucent around the edges and intensifies towards the center. Their tentacles, which can extend up to 15 feet, dangle below the bell, giving off a cloud-like appearance.

This colorful jellyfish species is a common sight along the Pacific Coast of North America, especially in coastal and offshore waters.

Mauve Stinger (Pelagia noctiluca)

Mauve Stinger

Easily recognized by its deep purple bell and bead-like tentacles, the mauve stinger is another colorful creature.

Their bell, typically about five inches in diameter, sports a shimmering look, while their tentacles appear almost iridescent under the water. 

They may also sport purple and pink shades, with some showing hints of yellow accents. These jellyfish’s colors are most vivid in the warm and temperate waters of the Atlantic and Mediterranean. 

Portuguese Man o’ War (Physalia physalis)

Portuguese Man o War

Despite its jellyfish-like appearance, the Portuguese Man o’ War is actually a siphonophore, an animal made up of a colony of organisms working together. They are technically not jellyfish.

However, since they are often mistaken as one of the most colorful jellyfish species out there, they deserve a mention here for clarification.

Portuguese Man o’ Wars are famous for their bright blue-purple float, which looks like a floating balloon on the water’s surface. 

They have long, venomous tentacles which can extend up to 100 feet. These tentacles display a range of blues, purples, and pinks. The float, which helps them drift on the ocean, is translucent and has vivid colors. 

Found in warm seas, these creatures are often seen floating in groups. Their colors make them a remarkable sight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Colorful jellyfish in aquarium

Can Jellyfish Be Any Color?

Jellyfish come in many colors, such as clear, pink, yellow, blue, purple, and red. Although some colors are less common, given the range of hues they have, you can find all colors in various body parts or types of jellyfish.

Why Are Jellyfish Bright Colors?

Jellyfish are often brightly colored due to pigments and bioluminescence. These colors can serve various purposes, such as camouflage, attracting prey, or warning predators. 

Some theories say that they use these bright colors to communicate in the deep sea, where there is very little visibility.

What Are the Rarest Jellyfish Colors?

Figuring out the rarest jellyfish colors is tough. Firstly, individual jellyfish can display multiple colors. Additionally, there isn’t a definitive study that ranks jellyfish colors by rarity. 

Because of these factors, we can’t know for sure which colors are the rarest. However, based solely on the common species we know, the colors black, bright red, and bright orange are usually the least observed.

Which jellyfish color captured your attention the most? Share with us your thoughts or any questions you may have about these colorful sea creatures in the comments below!

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