The "pink meanie" is one monster jellyfish. It can grow as bulbous as a hippo, dragging venomous tentacles 100 feet long. It's voracious, devouring down more than 30 moon jellies at a time.
The last time anyone reported one around here was more than a century ago. Until now.
A pink meanie showed up out of nowhere in September, discovered in an exhibit tank at the South Carolina Aquarium, feasting on a recently collected moon jellyfish. Startled aquarist Shannon Teders pulled the 4-inch-wide predator off her exhibit and sent it to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama to be identified by researcher Keith Bayha, the man who discovered the pink meanie is its own species.
The thing is now 20 inches wide and eating two moon jellies a day. It would eat more if Bayha let it, he said.
Worse still, the meanie evidently was too small to be seen, attached to the moon jelly, when it was dropped into the exhibit tank. The moon jelly was among a bunch collected by aquarium exhibit worker Nigel Bowers about 50 miles offshore of the Lowcountry. The last time anyone recorded a meanie here was in 1885.
The latest one "was probably brought up by the Gulf Stream," Bayha said. Pink meanies tend to turn up when there's a "bloom," or unusual swarm, of moon jellies. This year has been a good year for moon jellies.
Pink meanies sting. Bayha caught a tentacle while working on a meanie in the lab. The next day a rash covered his arm.
"It will sting you and it does hurt," he said. "It's not as bad as a sea nettle or a portuguese man-of-war. The pink meanies just get much bigger. If one of those tentacles hit you, you'll know it."
Meanies fascinate Bayha because they have all sorts of strange evolutionary adaptations specifically designed to eat moon jellies, about their only food. For example, the meanies have an unusually thick, ribbony mass that drops below their bell, allowing them to consume moon jellies that are as big and maybe bigger than they are.
The beasts are rare enough that Teders never had seen one before, she said.
"I know this genus around the world and it's extremely rare," Bayha said.
Pink meanies found in the Lowcountry were found well offshore, and others have washed ashore in the Gulf of Mexico. If the population here gets big enough, Bahya said, we could see them on the beaches too.
Scientific name is Drymonema larsoni. Researcher Keith Bayha named it for a friend of his.
Grows 5 feet wide, carries more than 150 stinging tentacles.
Closely resembles the lion's mane jellyfish.
Colored reddish white to yellowish white.
Native to Atlantic and Pacific ocean waters.