A Caltech Library Service

Passive energy recapture in jellyfish contributes to propulsive advantage over other metazoans

Gemmell, Brad J. and Costello, John H. and Colin, Sean P. and Stewart, Colin J. and Dabiri, John O. and Tafti, Danesh and Priya, Shashank (2013) Passive energy recapture in jellyfish contributes to propulsive advantage over other metazoans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110 (44). pp. 17904-17909. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC3816424.

[img] PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.

[img] PDF - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.

[img] Video (AVI) (Download Movie_S01) - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.

[img] Video (AVI) (Download Movie_S02) - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Gelatinous zooplankton populations are well known for their ability to take over perturbed ecosystems. The ability of these animals to outcompete and functionally replace fish that exhibit an effective visual predatory mode is counterintuitive because jellyfish are described as inefficient swimmers that must rely on direct contact with prey to feed. We show that jellyfish exhibit a unique mechanism of passive energy recapture, which is exploited to allow them to travel 30% further each swimming cycle, thereby reducing metabolic energy demand by swimming muscles. By accounting for large interspecific differences in net metabolic rates, we demonstrate, contrary to prevailing views, that the jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) is one of the most energetically efficient propulsors on the planet, exhibiting a cost of transport (joules per kilogram per meter) lower than other metazoans. We estimate that reduced metabolic demand by passive energy recapture improves the cost of transport by 48%, allowing jellyfish to achieve the large sizes required for sufficient prey encounters. Pressure calculations, using both computational fluid dynamics and a newly developed method from empirical velocity field measurements, demonstrate that this extra thrust results from positive pressure created by a vortex ring underneath the bell during the refilling phase of swimming. These results demonstrate a physical basis for the ecological success of medusan swimmers despite their simple body plan. Results from this study also have implications for bioinspired design, where low-energy propulsion is required.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle Information
Gemmell, Brad J.0000-0001-9031-6591
Costello, John H.0000-0002-6967-3145
Colin, Sean P.0000-0003-4463-5588
Dabiri, John O.0000-0002-6722-9008
Additional Information:© 2013 National Academy of Sciences. Edited by Steven Vogel, Duke University, Durham, NC, and accepted by the Editorial Board August 21, 2013 (received for review April 16, 2013) The New England Aquarium provided cultured medusae. B.J.G., J.H.C., S.P.C., C.J.S., D.T., and S.P. were supported by Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) Grant N00014-08-1-0654 through the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and J.O.D. was supported by MURI Grant N00014-10-1-0137 through the ONR. Author contributions: B.J.G., J.H.C., and S.P.C. designed research; B.J.G. performed research; C.J.S., J.O.D., D.T., and S.P. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; B.J.G., C.J.S., and J.O.D. analyzed data; and B.J.G., J.H.C., S.P.C., and J.O.D. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. S.V. is a guest editor invited by the Editorial Board. This article contains supporting information online at
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Office of Naval Research (ONR)N00014-08-1-0654
Office of Naval Research (ONR)N00014-10-1-0137
Issue or Number:44
PubMed Central ID:PMC3816424
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190422-155747277
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Energy recapture aids propulsive advantage Brad J. Gemmell, John H. Costello, Sean P. Colin, Colin J. Stewart, John O. Dabiri, Danesh Tafti, Shashank Priya Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2013, 110 (44) 17904-17909; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1306983110
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:94881
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:23 Apr 2019 19:54
Last Modified:09 Mar 2020 13:18

Repository Staff Only: item control page