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190 × 135 × 13 mm
184 pages
96 illustrations, 76 in colour
13 Apr 2020

Jellyfish Peter Williams

Jellyfish are, like the mythical Medusa, both beautiful and potentially dangerous. Found from pole to tropic, these mesmeric creatures form an important part of the sea’s plankton and vary in size from the gigantic to the minute. Perceived as alien creatures and seen as best avoided, jellyfish nevertheless have the power to fascinate: with the sheer beauty of their translucent bells and long, trailing tentacles; with a mouth that doubles as an anus; and without a head or brain.

Drawing upon myth and historical sources as well as modern scientific advances, this book examines our ambiguous relationship with these ancient and yet ill-understood animals, describing their surprisingly complex anatomy, weaponry and habits, and their vital contribution to the ocean’s ecosystem.

‘Combing through history, art, and science, Peter Williams tells stories proving that these graceful watery creatures deserve our appreciation even while they elude our understanding.’ — Mary P. Winsor, Professor Emeritus of the IHPST, University of Toronto

‘Neither fish nor jelly and rather more like slime, jellyfish puzzled Aristotle. Were they animals or plants? Even the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, was stumped. In fact, Peter Williams writes in his engaging and handsomely illustrated book, they are animals of surprising sophistication, with an ingenious portfolio of stratagems . . . his book is an ambivalent experience itself. The reader is by turns wary, repulsed and fascinated by these creatures . . . Mr Williams argues persuasively, if they are ineligible for affection, they at least deserve humanity's respect.’ — The Economist

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Peter Williams, who lives in Oxford, has a life-long interest in natural history and the contributions animals make to our culture. He is the author of Snail (Reaktion, 2009), also in the Animal series.


1 A Lineage of Uncertainty
2 Toxic but Fascinating
3 Floats, Eyes and Combs
4 The Illustrator’s Nightmare
5 Jellyfish Culture
6 Light, Death and Immortality
7 World Domination

Appendix 1: A Brief Description of Individual Species of Jellyfish Mentioned in the Text
Appendix 2: Where to see Jellyfish in Captivity
Select Bibliography
Associations, Websites and Apps
Photo Acknowledgements