Monday, 29 May 2006


The West of Europe is suffering from cold and rain, while on Lesvos the summer has arrived. Days with temperatures above 30°C are normal. Also the sea is suddenly a lot warmer. So the daily swimming parties have started again.

However, a few days ago we got a nasty shock when we tried to take off into the water, there was a jellyfish. I grew up in a Dutch seaside village (Zandvoort) and when the weather was warm and the wind was from the east you could bet on there being jellyfish. Then nobody could get me into the water, especially not into that muddy North Sea.

Greece also has jellyfish. Although I must admit that I've only seen them once on this island. Three years ago early in spring there were some huge very blue jellyfish sunning on the beach of Skala Kaloni. Brrr, no way would you have wanted to swim then. A long time ago I saw an invasion of jellyfish on the island of Mykonos and on Samos more than once I had to stay clear of the water because those slithery things occupied the sea.

So the second time I saw them here on Lesvos was a few days ago. And I think, when there is one, there are surely more of them. We took a good look in the water and yes, plenty of those red brownish jelly creatures were floating along the coast. But they did not look like they usually do. They were like oval balls and had some kind of stripes with merry coloured running lights! I never saw this before. It looked like an underwater fair.

It gave me the jim jams and I was reminded of the book 'The Swarm' by Frank Schätzing. In this fascinating book the world is attacked. Not by Martians or other alien creatures, but by all kinds of disasters from the sea. Strange worms which eat the sea bottom, creating underwater landslides, dolphins that go crazy and start attacking ships, tsunamis destroying parts of Europe, crabs which crawl onto the land in millions and enormous jelly plagues. A very interesting book which besides being a good story gives information about underwater life. It is the perfect book for the beach.

Unless you are confronted by such a strange sea creature. Like all the plagues in the book this jelly thing seemed to come right from the deepest darkness of the oceans. Thanks to it's coloured moving lights it seemed to give out strange signals. Brrrr. It made me shiver but part of me was fascinated. So we didn't go in for a swim and since then I always watch out for them before I dive into the water.

Since then I never saw another jelly. Except for on the internet. I was so curious about what creature had kept me out of the water that day. Well, jellies are creeps! I even saw a picture of a giant jelly in Japan the size of a human being. If ever I meet such a monster in the sea here I will definitely not go in the water for at least three years.

I did not find our mysterious lightning jelly on all the jelly sites I visited. After some more studying I found that there are other jelly-like families. And there I found it. Under the ctenophores. It was a comb jelly. Which is not a real jelly because it does not have tentacles metres long with which it can prick/sting or whatever a jelly does to you. Although it is a kind of cannibal because it feeds on other comb jellies.

There would have been no danger if we had swum amongst them. But when you do not know this, you'd better keep your distance. And I certainly don't want to touch such a slimey creature. That would immediately remind me of the times I accidentally touched a jelly.

While surfing the internet I also found a story about a group of Belgians who went to Greece to study reptiles, including snakes. They had beautiful pictures which gave me the shivers as well. Years ago I was surprised by an enormous bright green snake about 2 metres long right behind my computer. He slid through the open back door, so I could not help but looked around me every minute. Is there a snake under my desk, is a snake trying to sneak in behind my back?

The aesculapian snake was as thick as a fist and was not after all dangerous, but for one second (the other second I was out of the house) I thought I was faced by at least a constrictor. Greeks are very afraid of snakes, but now I am getting used to the idea that there are plenty of them around. They are more afraid of you than you of them, so usually they run first. And then most of the species living in Greece are not dangerous. The only thing you have to take care of is that you don't step on them while they are sunbathing or sleeping. Worse still is to step on them with flipflops (open shoes). When I walk in the fields I take care to have long trousers and closed shoes and even then if I'm not sure I carry a stick which I beat on the ground so that the snakes hear and have plenty of time to disappear. And certainly I never leave a door open anymore. I learned my lesson pretty well.

I do not want to scare you, but the Dutch saying is that one warned person is worth two. Just watch where you put your feet and whenever you walk in a field, wear closed shoes. The same goes for swimming where there are stones or rocks in the sea. Use water shoes. They will not help against jellies but they will protect you from sea urchins which do not step aside from you.

There is no remedy against jellies. But I will comfort you by saying that here on the island they are pretty rare. As are the comb jellies. Tell yourself it is an honour when you meet such a lightning ball of jelly. On the internet they describe them as one of the most beautiful creatures of the sea.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

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