Box Jellyfish Alatina alata Has a Circumtropical Distribution

Biol Bull. 2016 Oct;231(2):152-169. doi: 10.1086/690095.


Species of the box jellyfish (Cubozoa) genus Alatina are notorious for their sting along the beaches of several localities of the Atlantic and Pacific. These species include Alatina alata on the Caribbean Island of Bonaire (the Netherlands), A. moseri in Hawaii, and A. mordens in Australia. Most cubozoans inhabit coastal waters, but Alatina is unusual in that specimens have also been collected in the open ocean at great depths. Alatina is notable in that populations form monthly aggregations for spermcast mating in conjunction with the lunar cycle. Nominal species are difficult to differentiate morphologically, and it has been unclear whether they are distinct or a single species with worldwide distribution. Here we report the results of a population genetic study, using nuclear and mitochondrial sequence data from four geographical localities. Our analyses revealed a general lack of geographic structure among Alatina populations, and slight though significant isolation by distance. These data corroborate morphological and behavioral similarities observed in the geographically disparate localities, and indicate the presence of a single, pantropically distributed species, Alatina alata. While repeated, human-mediated introductions of A. alata could explain the patterns we have observed, it seems more likely that genetic metapopulation cohesion is maintained via dispersal through the swimming medusa stage, and perhaps via dispersal of encysted planulae, which are described here for the first time in Alatina.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Distribution*
  • Animals
  • Cubozoa / classification
  • Cubozoa / genetics
  • Cubozoa / physiology*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Hawaii
  • Humans
  • Moon
  • Phylogeny
  • Reproduction
  • Tropical Climate


  • DNA, Mitochondrial