(ORDO NEWS) — Groundbreaking research from the University of Copenhagen has shattered the long-held belief that jellyfish are simple creatures with limited cognitive abilities.
A study conducted on the Caribbean box jellyfish found that these marine organisms have complex learning abilities despite having a rudimentary nervous system. The discovery challenges the idea that jellyfish are uncomplicated creatures and suggests that advanced learning may have been a fundamental evolutionary advantage since the dawn of the nervous system.
Jellyfish: Ancient creatures with amazing abilities
Jellyfish have been on Earth for more than 500 million years, but their reputation as simple organisms obscures their true potential. This idea was largely based on their primitive nervous system, which paled in comparison with organisms with a developed centralized brain. However, a recent study conducted at the University of Copenhagen has shed new light on the cognitive abilities of jellyfish.
Professor Anders Garm, co-author of the study, explains: “It was previously assumed that jellyfish could only manage the simplest forms of learning, including habituation. Now we see that jellyfish have a much more subtle ability to learn and that they can actually learn from their mistakes. And while changing your behavior.”
The object of the study was Caribbean box jellyfish, in particular Tripedalia cystophora. Despite having only thousands of nerve cells, these jellyfish demonstrated complex learning mechanisms that allowed them to adapt their behavior based on experience. Surprisingly, these jellyfish were comparable in learning speed to fruit flies and mice.
Experiments conducted by the research team showed that these jellyfish use visual contrasts to judge their distance to the roots of mangrove trees, allowing them to avoid potential harm. Even more amazing is their ability to adjust their behavior depending on changes in contrast caused by environmental factors such as rainwater, algae and wave action.
Professor Garm explains: “Our experiments show that jellyfish use contrast to judge the distance to the roots, which allows them to swim away at the right moment. What is even more interesting is that the relationship between distance and contrast changes daily. The jellyfish learns from the contrasts in the current, combining visual impressions and sensations during unsuccessful evasive maneuvers.”
Associative learning in jellyfish
The study also showed that these jellyfish have the ability for associative learning. Despite the fact that jellyfish have only a thousand nerve cells, while our brain has about 100 billion, they can connect temporal coincidences of different impressions and recognize the connection. This type of learning, called associative learning, allows them to adapt their behavior based on experience.
Professor Garm emphasizes the significance of this discovery, stating: “This is very big news for basic neuroscience. It provides new insight into what can be done with a simple nervous system. It suggests that the ability to learn may have been one of the most important evolutionary benefits of the nervous system from the very beginning.”
Unraveling the mysteries of jellyfish learning
Although this study has provided fundamentally new information about the ability of jellyfish to learn, further research is needed to identify the specific nerve cells responsible for such learning. Scientists are now focused on unlocking the secrets of jellyfish learning to gain a deeper understanding of how these organisms process information and adapt their behavior.
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