In this guide, we’ll answer the question:
“What eats jellyfish?”
First, you’ll find a short summary of what animals eat jellyfish in the ocean and then get a detailed list of jellyfish predators.
Jellyfish, also called sea jellies, are in the subphylum Medusozoa, which is a major part of the phylum Cnidaria. A jellyfish is a free-swimming marine animal with tentacle arms that contain stinging cells.
Jellyfish are found all over the world and live in both saltwater and freshwater.
The average lifespan for a jellyfish is a few months, but in captivity, some species can live 2-3 years.
What Eats Jellyfish?
Animals that eat jellyfish include crabs, gray triggerfish, nudibranchs, ocean sunfish, sea anemones, sea turtles, seabirds, sharks, whales, and humans. A jellyfish has many natural predators and falls prey to a number of species in the ocean.
Crabs are omnivorous scavengers that live on the seafloor and eats jellyfish that swim by.
Arrow crabs and hermit crabs are especially known for killing jellyfish to feed on for food. But more interestingly is the spider crab, which has a symbiotic relationship with sea jellies like the Cannonball jellyfish.
According to research published by U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists discovered that “[spider crab] juveniles commonly inhabit the bell of the Cannonball Jellyfish”. Spider crabs eat on the prey captured by jellyfish and also protect the sea jelly from other marine animals that attack it.
Gray triggerfish have also been identified as eating invertebrates such as jellyfish.
Even though gray triggerfish have small mouths, they use their strong jaw and specialized teeth to pierce a jellyfish’s thin skin layer.
A gray triggerfish diet also comprises invertebrates with hard shells, such as sea urchins, shrimp, sand dollars, lobsters, and mollusks.
Nudibranchs are soft-bodied sea animals that eat jellyfish and are popularly known for their creativity in defense.
According to the Smithsonian Institution, some species of Nudibranchs call aeolids steal the defenses of these stinging jellyfish. Aeolids can feed on jellyfish and their stinging cells without being harmed and then store them in the tip of their cerata to use as defense against other sea creatures when attacked.
Ocean sunfish are foraging predators that will eat a variety of food, but this overview by Oceans states that the “preferred prey are jellyfishes.”
However, an ocean sunfish must eat a lot of jellyfish to support their weight because jellyfish are almost exclusively made up of water and are low in calories/nutrients.
Sea Anemones are flower-like marine animals with a basic radial symmetry and tentacles around a central mouth opening. They mostly live attached to rocks and use their stinging tentacles to catch passing prey like jellyfish into their mouth.
Jellyfish are the main source of food for the infamous leatherback sea turtle.
Leatherback turtles are gelatinivores, meaning that they only feed on invertebrates, making them some of the top jellyfish predators.
A seabird’s diet, specifically Northern fulmars, comprises small marine animals that swim at the surface level of water like jellyfish.
A seabird uses surface feeding and pursuit diving technique to capture and eat jellyfish with ease.
Interestingly, penguins also feed on jellyfish. In this New York Times article, biologists mounted cameras on marine animals and discovered that “Footage of penguins has revealed that they also eat jellyfish. In fact, the birds actively seek them out even when other options are available. Jellyfish may make up over 40 percent of a penguin’s diet.”
Even though pelagic sharks, such as whale sharks and basking sharks, do not actively hunt jellyfish, they still comprise the shark’s diet.
As filter feeders, pelagic sharks will swallow jellyfish without biting or chewing.
Just like pelagic sharks, blue whales, humpback whales, and other baleen whales are filter feeders that gulp large volumes of water containing fish, plankton, jellyfish, and crustaceans.
Whales of this type then strain out the water through their baleen and swallow their jellyfish catch.
Humans are also natural predators of jellyfish. Some species are suitable for consumption and are used as a primary food source and as an ingredient in various dishes.
The most popular countries that feed on jellyfish include Burma, China, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
What Do Jellyfish Eat?
Jellyfish are primarily carnivores but a few species are omnivores.
You can visit our other guide on what do jellyfish eat to find out more about what these marine animals feed on for nutrition.
Animals That Eat Jellyfish Summary
You now know what eats jellyfish in the ocean and which species are the top jellyfish predators.
As you discovered in this guide, there are about 10 animals that eat jellyfish in the wild.
I’m the lead editor and writer for Animal Answer Guide. I enjoy sharing expert knowledge on the various characteristics of common species within the five distinct groups of animals: amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles.