His expertise in jellyfish is so renowned, Monty Graham, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and professor of integrative biology at USF, has a new species of jellyfish bearing his name.
Aurelia montyi is one of 28 Aurelia species, also known as “moon jellies,” because their pale bell resembles a full moon. Native to the Gulf of Mexico, Aurelia montyi can grow to be the size of a dinner plate. It doesn’t pack much of a sting, like all Aurelia species, but may cause minor skin irritation in some individuals when physically encountered.
“What a very cool honor this is. I doubt many outside of science will fully appreciate it, but to have a species named for me is the kindest and most meaningful gesture from other scientists,” Graham said. “This one is extra special because it is a species that I’ve spent many years trying to know, but never expected we’d have the same name!”
Jellyfish have been on planet Earth nearly half a billion years longer than Homo sapiens. Up until the past few decades, the various species of jellyfish were largely unknown. Advances in DNA technology have allowed scientists to dive into the diversity of the “true” jellyfish class (Scyphozoa) and determined that there are so far around 200 different species of these stinging ocean beings. A recent study that combined genetic markers to recognize 28 different species of Aurelia jellyfish emphasizes the importance of identifying their diversity. Ten of those species were not previously described and needed official names so naturally one of them was named after Graham.
The discovery, reported as part of a study in Peer J’s Aquatic Biology section, was led by Jonathan W. Lawley of Griffith University. The team included co-author Dr. Luciano M. Chiaverano, a former student of Graham’s at the University of Southern Mississippi, with whom he shares the distinction of having collected and sequenced the genes of several moon jellyfish species in the Gulf of Mexico. The research article spotlights the seriousness of taxonomy, the study of defining and classifying groups of biological organisms, when it comes to Aurelia jellyfish.
“It is very rewarding and a privilege when you can honor amazing scientists with species names, to publicly acknowledge their contributions to the field,” said Lawley.