Propulsion in cubomedusae: mechanisms and utility

PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e56393. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056393. Epub 2013 Feb 20.


Evolutionary constraints which limit the forces produced during bell contractions of medusae affect the overall medusan morphospace such that jet propulsion is limited to only small medusae. Cubomedusae, which often possess large prolate bells and are thought to swim via jet propulsion, appear to violate the theoretical constraints which determine the medusan morphospace. To examine propulsion by cubomedusae, we quantified size related changes in wake dynamics, bell shape, swimming and turning kinematics of two species of cubomedusae, Chironex fleckeri and Chiropsella bronzie. During growth, these cubomedusae transitioned from using jet propulsion at smaller sizes to a rowing-jetting hybrid mode of propulsion at larger sizes. Simple modifications in the flexibility and kinematics of their velarium appeared to be sufficient to alter their propulsive mode. Turning occurs during both bell contraction and expansion and is achieved by generating asymmetric vortex structures during both stages of the swimming cycle. Swimming characteristics were considered in conjunction with the unique foraging strategy used by cubomedusae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Size / physiology
  • Cubozoa / anatomy & histology
  • Cubozoa / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Swimming / physiology*
  • Time Factors

Grant support

This work was supported by an ONR MURI award (N000140810654) and National Science Foundation grant OCE 0623508 to JHC, SPC, JOD. And the work was supported by the Roger Williams University Foundation to Promote Scholarship. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.